The Worcester Senior Center, an REC Mobile Market stop, in action this month.

Legislators, farmers, and anti-hunger advocates gathered to discuss the success and future of the Massachusetts Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) at the Worcester Senior Center on December 12. Participants demonstrated that affordable food access is an economic generator, particularly for farmers.

HIP, launched in April 2017, has enabled shoppers who use SNAP to earn a matching incentive when they purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and community supported agriculture programs throughout Massachusetts.

In the first seven months of HIP, 58,000 SNAP participants benefited from the program, increasing their fruit and vegetable intake by one serving per day, and purchasing $2.75 million in fresh, healthy produce according to Winton Pitcoff of Massachusetts Food Systems Collaborative. This exceeded expectations by nearly 500%. More than 200 Massachusetts farmers currently participate in HIP.

“HIP has been a fantastic advantage to Oakdale Farms,” says Laura Smith, about the farm she operates with her family, which has been selling at markets in Worcester County since 2007. “The extra income it has provided has helped grow our business.  And, most rewarding has been the relationships we have developed with the customers in the community.  It has been a win-win for everyone.”

“There is a myth out there that low-income people don’t care about healthy food,” says Worcester County Food Bank Director of Advocacy, Liz Sheehan Castro. Among Worcester County Food Bank’s advocacy priorities is supporting SNAP and related programs to expand food access for low-income people. “The success of this program has demonstrated the pent-up demand,” Sheehan Castro says.

Because use of the program has exceeded expectations, additional funding must be secured to ensure that the program can be sustained.  At the event at the Senior Center, DTA Commissioner Jeff McCue expressed his commitment to securing additional resources to maintain HIP.

The 2015 Massachusetts Local Food Action Plan, a comprehensive food system plan developed for the Commonwealth, identified the successful implementation of HIP as a priority.

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