Program aims to provide people with more access to healthy farmers' market foods

Brown County nutrition experts are pushing people who receive government assistance to 'Double' their dollars at the city's farmers' markets this year.

GREEN BAY – People who receive government assistance to purchase food can now see their dollars go a little bit further at the farmers markets in Green Bay.

[caption id="attachment_42267" align="alignleft" width="300"] Click on the picture for a brochure on the Green Bay Farmers' Markets and EBT 'Double Your Bucks' information.[/caption]

It's called the Double Your Bucks program. And it's designed to get recipients to purchase more fresh foods with their government assistance.

Like Felicha VanCalster.

"Where do we go to first?" VanCalster asked her friend, as the two walked down the street at the Farmers' Market on Broadway Wednesday.

"These are so cool!" she said as she stopped to look at some baby tomato plants for sale.

You wouldn't know it, but VanCalster's shopping at the market, for the first time. Why? Well, frankly because she was embarrassed.

"I didn't have the money – ever – so I didn't really want to come down,” said the 25-year-old single mother of three young children. “My friends used to come down and look, but there's no sense in looking if you can't buy something."

But when VanCalster discovered she could use her government-issued debit card at the market for fresh food, and purchase more fruits and vegetables than she has money for?

"I had $11 on my card, $10 – now I got $20? I mean, what's better than that?" she said.

The Double Your Bucks program doubles the first $10 people, like VanCalster, can spend weekly on fresh produce, at each farmers market.

"There's nothing better than getting fresh produce, fresh veggies and fruits for your kids," VanCalster said.

The way it works is farmers’ market staff take money off a user's government-issued debit card – called EBT, or electronic benefit transfer. The recipients then, in exchange, receive wooden tokens. EBT recipients use the tokens to purchase non-prepared foods. The Broadway and Saturday markets have accepted EBT for three years.

"I don't really ever get much from the store because it's so expensive," said VanCalster. "But here, it's cheaper."

"People have a perception that fresh produce costs a lot and it's going to spoil quickly and it also takes some time to change behavior, if you're not used to coming to the farmers market," explained Karen Early, a nutrition educator with the Brown County UW-Extension office.

Early says the county has 14,000 households that qualify for nutrition assistance each month. The Double Your Bucks program is intended to give those people greater access to affordable, fresh, healthy foods.

"One of the proven-most ways to have people use EBT at the farmers markets more is to give a financial incentive," said Early of the program.

Program organizers say last year, there were $16,000 worth of EBT transactions done between both farmers markets. This year, they hope the privately-funded Double Your Bucks program actually runs out of money.

Now working the market like a pro, VanCalster has a message for others who might shy away from the farmers markets because they use EBT cards.

"Don't be embarrassed to come out here and do it, because everybody needs help at some point in their life," said VanCalster.

How to get more EBT Farmers Market info
• EBT users can text ‘EBT’ to 89800 to receive free text alerts about farmers market promotions
• EBT or Double Your Bucks questions can directed to Live54218 Assistant Director Melinda Morella at (920) 593-3403