Food stamps are generally thought to assist only those who are eligible for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but the Fair Food Network has developed a program that puts money into the pockets of Michigan growers when SNAP recipients buy their produce.

The Ann Arbor, Mich.-based nonprofit started the Double Up Food Bucks program in 2009 at five farmers markets in Michigan.

It has grown to include more than 150 farmers markets, and for the 2013 season three independent grocers in downtown Detroit piloted the program.

“We think everything about it is wonderful,” said Jim Garrison, manager of the Honeybee Market near the Ambassador Bridge in southwest Detroit.

“It took some convincing because no one believes you are going to give them something for free. But once they understood it was for real they started telling others and we saw new customers in the store because of the program.

“We have always been in the mindset to buy as much fresh produce as possible from Michigan farmers during the season, so it fit well with our operations. We really like the fact that Double Up gets more fresh fruits and vegetables to the homes that need help while benefitting Michigan growers with increased sales.”

Retailers, growers like Double Up program for produceThose increased sales totaled $2 million in 2012, said Oran Hesterman, president and chief executive officer of the Fair Food Network. He said 80% of growers whose produce was sold via the program said they are selling more because of it.

“In 2012 we had 90,000 transactions in the program,” Hesterman said.

“A full 80% of the people using the program reported they are eating more fresh produce than before.”

Hesterman said the pilot program with retailers Honey Bee Market, Metro FoodLand and Mike’s Fresh this season was so successful that he is already getting inquiries from officials in other regions of the country to establish Double Up programs in their areas.

Rachel Bair, program director for Double Up Food Bucks, said the program bucks traditional behavior theories while fulfilling the mission of the Fair Food Network to create wider access to healthy, fresh food.

“Conventional wisdom says you need a carrot and a stick to change behavior,” Bair said in a recent news release.

“What we’ve shown with DUFB is that you just need a better tasting and more affordable carrot.”