Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Coupon program, a new program piloted by Green Mountain Farm-to-School (GMFTS), will allow families receiving federal SNAP benefits, known in Vermont as 3SquaresVT, to purchase $75 worth of fresh fruits and vegetables at local NEK grocery stores.

The primary goal of the program is to increase the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers participating in SNAP by providing incentives at the following retail locations: C&C Supermarket in Barton, Ray’s Market in Irasburg, Craftsbury General Store in Craftsbury, and Vista Foods in Newport.

Beginning in August, SNAP participant households in Orleans and Essex counties will receive information about the program and instructions for redeeming their coupons, which will arrive beginning in September and remain valid through February 2016.

“This project will not only improve access to healthy food for residents but also it will open up new markets for our local food producers,” said Katherine Sims, Executive Director of GMFTS. While Sims noted that the program won’t require participants to buy only locally grown food with their coupons, GMFTS will work to help retailers stock more local food through its distribution program, Green Mountain Farm Direct and directly from local farmers.

Leo Piette, Owner of Ray’s Market in Irasburg, said that he often encourages people to choose fruits and vegetables when they shop, but that having Vermont Harvest’s coupons will make buying fresh produce an easier choice for SNAP participants. “They’ll have to use the coupons,” he said.

Vermont Harvest has been generously funded by a $93,000 grant that is part of $31.5 million in Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grants announced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Vermont’s congressional delegation, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.), wrote a letter in support of the program to USDA Secretary Thomas Vilsack in December.

Leahy said:  “SNAP is a helping hand to many families trying to stretch their food budget so that they can put three meals on the table every day.  But a helping hand is more than just putting food on a plate, it is offering healthy options to help form healthy lifestyles.  Pairing this program with incentives to use local Vermont fruits and vegetables makes sense, and it’s a winning scenario for everyone.  I am proud that Green Mountain Farm-to-School has been selected to continue its extraordinary work of connecting our children, farms and communities throughout the state.”

GMFTS will partner with several organizations to implement Vermont Harvest including UVM Center for Sustainable Agriculture, Vermont Department of Health, Vermont Department for Children and Families, Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund, Wholesome Wave.