The Observer

The Double Up Food Bucks program at the La Grande Farmers Market, which helps many local families put fresh produce on their tables, is set to receive a boost.

The Oregon News Service reported Friday that the state will provide $1.5 million of support over the next two years for the Double Up Food Bucks program, in which about half of farmers markets in Oregon participate.

“We don’t know how much we will receive, but it will improve our stability (with regard to Double Up Food Bucks),’’ said Liberty Avila, chair of the La Grande Farmers Market Board.

The La Grande Farmers Market has not yet been told when it will begin receiving funding from the state.

The La Grande Farmers Market has relied on private donations the past two years to keep the program operating after a federal grant supporting it expired. Double Up provides extra money to qualifying individuals and families to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the twice-weekly market.

Avila said the private support the program has received has been strong each of the past years. La Grande’s Double Up received $15,000 in donations in 2018 and has taken in $13,000 in 2019.

“We are thrilled (with the private donations),” Avila said.

Major donors this year include Grande Ronde Hospital, many doctors and staff at the hospital, the Union County Local Community Advisory Council and Cycle Oregon.

Thanks to donations from these organizations and individuals, this summer the La Grande Farmers Market is able to continue providing extra help to those who receive money for food via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program through Oct. 29, the end of its 2019 season.

“We are in a good place now (to continue the Double Up program through this summer),” Avila said.

The money SNAP recipients receive comes via an electronic benefit transfer card that can be used at grocery stores, certain businesses and farmers markets for food purchases. The Double Up Food Bucks program doubles the value of SNAP benefits at participating farmers markets. At the La Grande Farmers Market, anyone making up to $10 in expenditures with an EBT card will have their purchasing power doubled. The additional funds can be spent at the farmers market for fruits, vegetables and plant starts.

Avila said the Double Up program draws in people who may not otherwise shop at the seasonal market, which adds to the market’s vitality. She said that statistics indicate there were SNAP transactions made by 325 different individuals in 2018, almost all of which involved customers using the Double Up program. While numbers for this year are not yet available, the records do indicate that 15 people who had not made SNAP purchases before at the Farmers Market have done so this year.

The number of people making SNAP purchases will likely increase significantly later this summer when more produce becomes available at the Farmers Market, Avila said.

Avila said one merit of the Double Up Food Bucks program is it encourages people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables and less processed food, which is often higher in salt, sugar and fats. She said that a number of people coming to the Farmers Market have told her the increased availability of fresh fruit and vegetables have improved their health.

Avila noted that the Double Up Food Bucks program also benefits area farmers.

“It helps them to sell more produce and is good for the local economy,” she said.

The La Grande Farmers Market is one of about 100 in Oregon that participate in the Double Up Food Bucks program, according to the Farmers Market Fund website.

Avila said donations for Double Up Food Bucks are always welcome and that all contributions received the remainder of this year will go toward 2020. She said private donations remain important despite the state funding the La Grande Farmers Market is expected to receive.

“We can’t guarantee that it will cover our costs,” Avila said.

The La Grande Farmers Market is open from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and from 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays at Max Square at the corner of Fourth Street and Adams Avenue.