UpRoot volunteer gleaning crew at Rock Bottom Ranch. Photo by Geneviève Villamizar.

Food assistance programs have come a lonnnnnng way, Baby.

Today, recognizing that food deficits hit many of us in unpredictable and uncontrollable ways—COVID, anyone?—federal and regional nutrition assistance programs have evolved to support more people with more dignity and more agency.

Physical paper food stamps, launched in 1939, connected the unemployed and impoverished with vouchers to be used towards surplus U.S. food commodities, in support of U.S. farmers. The program recognized that a malnourished population jeopardizes public health, which could become a national crisis. The voucher program peaked at four million users per month that year, but soon ended with reduced surplus and rebounding employment associated with World War II.

President John F. Kennedy’s first executive order, on Jan. 21, 1961, revived the increasingly necessary food assistance program. Kennedy’s pilot program started in eight national locations and soon spread to 43. President Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty” formalized the Food Stamp Program in 1964.

With tens of millions of users, concerns about the size, cost, and fraudulent use of the program, the food stamp assistance program was continuously massaged at the federal level. This ongoing national debate caused the program to acquire a stigma. Paper stamps were a visible cue of “need.” Need, in parts of the U.S., was perceived as shameful. Ultimately, the 1996 Welfare Reform Act led to legislation that, by 2002, replaced food stamps with electronic balance (EBT) cards similar to ATM and credit cards for a reformatted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, “SNAP.” The cards were designed to reduce fraud and give users more privacy.

Still, there remained hurdles for low-income families’ ability to afford or even have access to nutrient-dense food versus cheap, empty-calorie foods.

Enter NourishColorado.org, Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB), and the reality of free, nutrient-dense Colorado produce for SNAP users and families. Piggybacking off SNAP, DUFB eliminates having to choose between hungry and healthy.

How do DUFB work?

As a SNAP user myself, I can spend seven dollars on my SNAP card at participating DUFB outlets. At the register, the cashier records my SNAP purchase value, and then hands me seven DUFB one-dollar coupons. I can then use these coupons to buy produce grown here in our valley, or Colorado, for up to $20 in DUFB each time I shop.

I was confused the first time I was given DUFB at Mana Foods last summer. It seemed too good to be true and, I confess, I did not use them. As I came to learn more about DUFB, I realized it was important to make very clear to the public what a gift this program is and not just for SNAP users.

Nourish Colorado tracks all DUFB dispersed at each participating outlet. Documented use demonstrates a demand for increased SNAP benefits. For example, if I get “free” DUFB for produce, I can spend SNAP instead on whole grains, olive oil, or other such products from other places that contribute to my child’s healthy diet, and dedicate DUFB to Colorado meat, dairy, fruits, and veggies. I don’t have to choose one or the other. There is an incredible amount of dignity in this arrangement.

Nourish Colorado also directs significant federal SNAP dollars into our local, resilient, regional food systems. When we use them to buy the famous tomatoes grown by Kirsten and Casey at Wild Mountain Seeds, beef from Potter Farms, or fresh eggs from Dooley Family Farm up the Crystal River, we invest directly in our food systems.

DUFB also supports the vitality of small and medium size ranches and farms by expanding their consumer base. How? SNAP users may not even bother with farmers’ markets, often seen as catering to more affluent people who can take time off of work and pay more money for what some believe to be more expensive produce. SNAP and DUFB, however, are welcome and used at the Carbondale Farmers’ Market.

Bring your SNAP card to the info booth, the market manager will swipe your EBT card and give you SNAP bucks to shop. SNAP money can be spent on any eligible food item that isn’t “hot and ready.” Dollar for dollar, they will also match the SNAP amount with DUFB, up to $20, which you can use to shop for Colorado-grown fruits and veggies.

Additionally, some local farmers work with SNAP and DUFB for weekly food box shares. A food box, or CSA, is a pre-packed box of fresh food that is sourced locally from farmers in your community. It is a great way to try new fruits or vegetables and grocery shop less with a convenient pick-up system.

To use Double Up Food Bucks at a CSA or Food Box, order a box by going to a participating CSA’s website or calling. When you purchase a weekly CSA box with SNAP, you will get a weekly box free the following week! Bring your EBT card to pick up your CSA box from the drop-off location, then enjoy a free box the following week!

Nourish Colorado is an innovator in food equity, proving their mission through DUFB to increase “access to healthy eating and active living by removing barriers that inequitably and disproportionately affect low-income communities and people of color.” For more information, go to DoubleUpColorado.org

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