Vermont has a wealth of farm fresh foods, yet access to affordable, local produce is often not viable for some residents of the Northeast Kingdom (NEK). Low-income individuals and families who depend on 3squaresVT need their food dollars to stretch as far as possible.To address this challenge, Green Mountain Farm to School (GMFTS) will be conducting the third year of its Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Coupon program. One primary goal of the program is to improve access to healthy food for residents.
Recipients use the coupons to directly purchase fresh produce. Last year, the Orleans and Essex county residents who participated in the program had good things to say about the coupons. In a follow-up survey, one participant stated, “We got to try vegetables that we normally wouldn’t buy without cash coming out of our SNAP benefits; I hope you do it again.”
“The coupons reached over 900 households in the NEK in 2016, and we hope to grow that number this year,” explains Catherine Cusack, Assistant Director of GMFTS. The program will launch this fall under a new model, and the total dollar value of the coupons has nearly doubled to $60,000. Consumers will simply use their 3squaresVT benefits to purchase fresh produce in order to receive redeemable coupons for more fresh fruits and vegetables.
GMFTS is partnering with five stores in the NEK:
Another goal of the coupon program is to open up new markets for our local food producers by partnering with these local retailers. “I’m really excited; the new plan makes it more accessible to a broader range of people who are able to reap the benefits over a longer period of time,” states Emily Maclure, owner of the Craftsbury General Store. Those food dollars are also staying local by design, a boon for small farms and businesses in the NEK. “It’s just a great program,” continues Maclure, who has participated since the inaugural year, “it’s helping people change their buying habits and their eating habits.” The coupon program is just one more way GMFTS is offering viable solutions to promote a healthier, more food secure Northeast Kingdom.