Leahy And Community Leaders Gather To Announce More Than $1 Million In New Funding To Help Connect Healthy Families, Farm And Food

BURLINGTON, Vt. (MONDAY, June 20, 2016) – Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) Monday announced more than $1 million in new grants to support local agriculture and promote healthy communities.  The grantees include Green Mountain Farm to School and Wholesome Wave, the Vermont Department of Health, and the University of Vermont Center for Rural Studies.  The grants were awarded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) and the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) programs, both authorized in the Leahy-led Farm Bills of 2008 and 2014.

Leahy was joined by community health and nutrition advocates, as well as state officials from across Vermont in front of the Community Barn at the Intervale Center in Burlington.  Grants were awarded to three recipients that will implement unique programs to connect low-income Vermonters with local fresh produce, and provide critical research about the economic impacts of direct delivery methods.

Included within the projects is a “fresh produce prescription” program.  Led by the Vermont Department of Health, this project aims to bring together local farms and community grocers with health care providers to improve delivery of fresh produce to families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or 3SquaresVT benefits in Rutland and Chittenden Counties.

Leahy said:  “In parts of Vermont where over a quarter of children are considered food insecure, these collaborations are exciting steps toward solving hunger and health inequality in our state. Today’s announcement is evidence of Vermont’s leadership in developing new partnerships to create closer ties between farms and communities, which will result in the long-term viability of our local agriculture.  It is programs like these that help strengthen the small, family farms that are critical to food security and community vitality across America.  I am glad to support these efforts in Washington.”

Leahy, a leading member of the Senate Agriculture and Senate Appropriations Committees and a conferee on the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, worked to include original funding for the FINI and AFRI programs.  FINI is a joint effort between USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and USDA's Food and Nutrition Service to improve the nutrition and health of SNAP households.  AFRI funds food safety, agriculture economics and rural community research throughout the country.

Grants Totaling $1,093,830 were Awarded to Three Recipients, Including:

Wholesome Wave & Green Mountain Farm-To-School: $499,720
USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant

The grant will support the expansion of a Green Mountain Farm-to-School’s pilot program to increase local, fresh fruits and vegetable consumption among SNAP participants across Essex and Orleans counties by providing additional SNAP dollars to spend at local retailers on fresh produce.

Vermont Department of Health: $100,000
USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant

The Vermont Department of Health will partner with area health care providers to implement a produce prescription and coupon program for SNAP beneficiaries in Chittenden and Rutland Counties.  This will also enhance the SNAP-Ed program by partnering with local retailers to increase educational outreach and the availability of fresh produce.  

University of Vermont Community Development and Applied Economics Department, Center for Rural Studies: $494,110
USDA Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Grant

The Farm Fresh Food Boxes program aims to improve the economic viability of small and medium sized farms and rural grocery stores by studying a new food distribution strategy for customers to access local, fresh produce.

Michel Nischan, Founder and CEO of Wholesome Wave, as well Three-time James Beard Foundation Award winner said: “In rural states like Vermont, there is an affordability gap that is sometimes overlooked, given the tremendous potential to provide healthy food grown within the state. Grants like FINI, which support innovative models to make fresh fruits and vegetables more affordable for SNAP consumers and their families, provide a real way forward to addressing this gap.  We are so lucky that Senator Leahy has the experience and relationships with leaders in the Vermont agricultural community to develop partnerships that will make a real sustainable difference in fighting hunger, improving health outcomes and preserving farm viability." ?

Green Mountain Farm-to-School Founder Katherine Sims said: "The FINI grant is a significant opportunity for the Northeast Kingdom. This funding will allow Green Mountain Farm-to-School to reach more low-income residents in the Northeast Kingdom and encourage them to choose the fresh vegetable and fruit option while shopping in their local grocery store.  It's also an opportunity to have those local stores source from area farmers and encourage participants in the program to purchase the local food that will help spur further economic growth in the region."

Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross said: “These federal resources will provide Vermonters with access to healthy local food, create new opportunities for our farmers and help address the challenge of food insecurity in our community. The funds will have a tremendous impact on both community health and the local ag economy.”

Chair of the University of Vermont Community Development and Applied Economics Department and Director of the Center for Rural Studies Jane Kolodinsky said: “We are pleased to be able to make the Farm Fresh Food Box model available to connect consumers who are currently unable to access local food with farmers who are seeking additional markets for their fresh local products.  Using country stores as the locale further adds to enhancing the vitality of rural communities.  Our research hypothesis is that Farm Fresh Food Boxes can benefit farmers, consumers and local retailers.”   

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