As the outdoor market season winds down, we have much to celebrate – and plenty to learn from – after the first year under the Maine Harvest Bucks statewide nutrition incentive brand. (Previously Maine farmers’ market nutrition incentive programs operated under various names such as “double value coupon” or “bonus bucks.”) Since April, nearly $50,000 Maine Harvest Bucks have already been used by SNAP customers to buy fruits and vegetables at their local farmers’ markets. At least another $10,000 Bucks have been distributed and, we hope, are soon to be redeemed! Many of the largest participating markets run outdoors up until Thanksgiving and about 1/3 of participating markets run indoors through the winter, so there are still many great opportunities to store up on the fall harvest.
The new Maine Harvest Bucks brand played a key role in the success of the statewide program this season. It allowed us (and our collaborators in the Maine Local Foods Access Network) to create a set of promotional tools and templates; to launch the maineharvestbucks.org website where anyone can find the MHB site(s) nearest them; and to distribute statewide promotional materials to key networks of service providers such as regional DHHS and SNAP-Ed offices.
While we, at MFFM, largely focused on this macro scope (rolling out the brand, supporting all 34 participating markets, etc.), dozens of farmers, volunteers and staff focused on building their program at the micro, or local, level. One critical component of a successful nutrition incentive program is community partnership, and many MHB markets benefited from the assistance of local organizations and businesses. Partnership can take many forms based on the capacity and needs of the market and the capacity and mission of the partner. The local partners mapped out above all provided different levels and types of support, including:
- Promotion & outreach: An organization may be able to help design, distribute, and/or print materials. Perhaps they do promotion (e-news, newsletter, Facebook) of their own and could add your MHB/SNAP program details to their materials.
- Education & events: In addition to getting the word out in the community, some organizations can provide educational demonstrations at market. These can be a great resource for any customer who is trying a new fruit or vegetable or is looking for new recipes.
- Volunteers & staff: Volunteers and staff need to be recruited, coordinated, and in the case of staff, paid. A local entity may be able to assist your market with this part of the program.
Over the winter months, we will work with all Maine Harvest Bucks farmers’ markets to fine-tune their nutrition incentive program systems as well as promotion and outreach plans for next summer season. By analyzing the ways in which a market succeeded or struggled, we can help pinpoint what types of partnerships will be most beneficial and/or how to improve upon existing partnerships. Often it is useful to have a written agreement to clarify what roles each party will play in a proposed partnership. Our aim is to make sure that each market has established partnerships to help foster the growth of Maine Harvest Bucks in future years.
Could your organization or business provide some degree of support to a Maine Harvest Bucks market? If yes (or even maybe) get in touch with us ([email protected]) or directly with your market so discuss exactly what a partnership could look like.