Last updated on February 24th, 2017 at 04:33 pm
Beginning this spring, New Mexicans who receive federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can save money when they buy New Mexico-grown fresh fruits and vegetables at several Lowe’s grocery stores in New Mexico. SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, assists one in five people in the state.
Double Up Food Bucks, a program of the New Mexico Farmers’ Marketing Association (NMFMA), provides SNAP customers with a dollar-for-dollar match for their purchases of New Mexico-grown fresh produce. At grocery stores, for example, that means SNAP customers who bring $20 worth of qualifying produce to the cash register are charged only $10 to their electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, card.
Double Up Food Bucks has proven success at nearly 80 SNAP-authorized locations, including farmers’ markets, farm stands, mobile markets and several grocery stores across the state, but the new partnership between the NMFMA and Lowe’s marks the first time the program will be offered by a major food retailer whose regular customer base is extremely price sensitive, according to the NMFMA.
“Lowe’s is a family-owned grocery business with 22 stores in New Mexico,” said Rob Ybarra, director of produce for the Littlefield, Texas-based company. “We’re committed to offering our customers fresh, healthy food at the best possible prices, and Double Up Food Bucks will help us do that. We’re also looking forward to increasing the amount of New Mexico-grown food we have in our stores, and this program is already assisting us in developing new relationships with farmers in the state.”
During 2017, Lowe’s will pilot the Double Up Food Bucks program at its 4th Street store in Albuquerque and at its Santa Fe location that operates under the Food King banner. As New Mexico-grown produce becomes increasingly available during the summer growing season, Double Up Food Bucks may also be available at the Gallup store locations.
During spring, Lowe’s customers can expect to see New Mexico-grown crops such as garlic, cabbage, potatoes, lettuce, pinto beans, and dried red chile. During summer and fall, the produce selection will expand to include New Mexico-grown tomatoes, corn, jalapeños, eggplant, squash, apples, melons, green chile and more.
“When people buy locally grown food they get the freshest food that has travelled fewer miles since harvest, and they also start to learn about the seasonality of food in their region,” said Denise Miller, executive director of the NMFMA.
Ybarra hopes that within five years, 70 percent of the produce in Lowe’s stores located in New Mexico will be sourced from New Mexico farmers.
“I love this state, it’s fertile grounds and the farmers that I am getting to know are truly an impressive group,” he said. “Lowe’s believes healthy customers are happy customers, and we’re making a commitment to Double Up Food Bucks and other in-store programs that support our New Mexico customers and this business philosophy.”
Added Miller, “With Double Up Food Bucks, everyone wins: Low-income families are able to afford more fresh produce, local farmers increase their sales, and communities see food dollars recirculate into the local economy.”
Double Up Food Bucks has been expanding in New Mexico since 2015 with the help of grant funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA NIFA), along with funding provided by the state of New Mexico and private foundations.
During 2016, the NMFMA was awarded $2.1 million from USDA NIFA for a four-year Double Up Food Bucks program. State funding—which is required for match for the federal program—started at $400,000 in 2015 and currently is budgeted at $330,000 for 2017. State lawmakers have been quick to recognize the multiple benefits the program brings, including a return on investment showing that for every SNAP dollar spent, a $1.80 is recirculated into the local economy.
Double Up Food Bucks is a national model for healthy food incentives active it nearly 20 states. The program was developed by the Fair Food Network, a Michigan-based non-profit.
A complete list of the state’s farmers’ markets, farm stands, mobile markets and grocery stores that are participating in the Double Up Food Bucks can be found here.