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Beans&Greens Program a win-win for farmers, low-income families

As part of the Beans&Greens program, low-income families can take their SNAP debit cards to participating farmers markets, where they receive tokens to purchase SNAP-eligible food.

We live in the breadbasket of America and are surrounded by farms, so it should be easy to get affordable, healthy and locally grown food into everyone’s hands, right? For low-income families trying to make

{mprestriction ids="1"}government-provided food assistance dollars stretch, it’s a struggle to afford fresh produce and meats from the outer perimeter of the grocery store let alone a farmers market.

The Menorah Legacy Foundation — in partnership with Cultivate Kansas City — aimed to address this problem when it launched The Kansas City Beans&Greens Program in 2010. Beans&Greens strives to improve the affordability and accessibility of healthy, local food in Greater Kansas City. The program does this by providing area farmers markets with the technology needed to accept SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) assistance monies, which are loaded on a debit card, and giving low-income families a financial incentive to purchase healthy food with a dollar-for-dollar match.

Under Beans&Greens, low-income families can take their SNAP debit cards to participating farmers markets, where they receive tokens to purchase SNAP-eligible food. For every $1 in SNAP funds people spend, they receive an additional $1 up to $25 per customer per week to use at the farmers market. This means that people spending $25 of their SNAP funds at the farmers market will get an additional $25 that they can use there for even more fresh food. (City Market matches up to $15 per week per customer.) In Kansas, Beans&Greens also matches Senior Farmers Market Nutritional Program coupons.

“Low-income people never shopped at a farmers market because they couldn’t afford it,” said Gayla Brockman, executive director of the Menorah Legacy Foundation. “But now they can.

“There is an incentive to come every week instead of once a month.”

When Beans&Greens launched in 2010, there were seven participating farmers markets. That number has risen to 16 in Kansas (Johnson and Wyandotte counties) and Missouri (Jackson and Clay counties). The program has helped more than 25,000 individuals on food assistance and more than 1,000 seniors with a local economic impact of $2 million. Besides benefiting low-income families, Beans&Greens has helped more than 200 local farmers, many of whom are small-scale farmers, to gain additional customers. The result is classic supply-and-demand with a “healthy commerce” twist and a win-win for everyone involved.

“We winged it,” Brockman said, of the program’s early days. “I didn’t know what I was doing, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

“We could not have been able to do this without our partners who have been behind us all the way.”

Funders for Beans&Greens include the Menorah Legacy Foundation, Health Care Foundation of Greater Kansas City, Wyandotte Health Foundation, Victor E. Speas Foundation, Missouri Department of Agriculture, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Kansas City, Kansas Health Foundation, Bank of America, Prime Health Foundation, Unified Government-Hollywood Casino Grant Fund, the Red Ladies Aloha Triathlon, the Johl Family Fund and private family foundations.

As an “incubator,” the Menorah Legacy Foundation launches programs on its own or with a partner but is always looking for an eventual permanent home for the programs it starts. After five years, the Menorah Legacy Foundation will hand over ownership of Beans&Greens to Cultivate Kansas City, an organization whose goal is to promote urban agriculture, in January 2015.

The change in ownership is just one example of how the program has evolved in the past five years.

After the first year of Beans&Greens, organizers found the program wasn’t attracting a lot of young African-American families. Beans&Greens partnered with the University of Missouri Extension and Kansas State Extension to launch Cooking Corps, a group of volunteers that go to area farmers markets and give cooking demonstrations and tips on how to handle food safely. With the addition of the Cooking Corps, the number of young African-American families participating in Beans&Greens has grown demonstrably, Brockman said.

Also, in the beginning, Beans&Greens was helping farmers markets to purchase the debit card machines, which cost $1,200 initially, so they could accept SNAP assistance monies. Now that the farmers markets have the machines, Beans&Greens can assist with whatever needs the markets might have, whether it be staffing, signage, promotion or something else. The program provides the matching funds from April 1 to Nov. 30.

Beans&Greens has been instrumental in helping some farmers markets to survive. One market was planning to close at the end of 2009 before Beans & Greens started in 2010; it is now thriving.

On a larger scale, the concept of putting locally grown food into the hands of low-income families is taking root across the country. In June, Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon signed the “Beans&Greens Bill” into law, which calls for a pilot nutrition incentive program to be launched across the state of Missouri.

In addition, the 2014 Farm Bill signed by President Barack Obama includes language to provide funding for SNAP incentive programs like Beans&Greens on a national level.

These types of programs are designed to help people improve their health by giving them opportunities to change their nutrition habits. Shopping for fresh food at farmers markets gives low-income families the chance to speak with farmers one-on-one about the food they are purchasing. They can find out answers right away if they have questions regarding food allergies or want to know if what they are buying is free of antibiotics and pesticides.

Brockman told a story about a woman with four daughters who started shopping at City Market. Her 16-year-old had high blood pressure and needed to be on a diet consisting of fresh, low-sodium foods. The mom said she came every week because that is what made a difference in her daughter’s well-being.

In 2013, City Market did $175,504 in SNAP transactions including the match. About 200 SNAP transactions take place there on the average Saturday, said Deb Connors, market master at City Market.

“The match is such an incentive,” she said. “It spreads by word of mouth with the customers.

“Even with the SNAP program, sometimes people think farmers markets are too expensive.”

Connors is happy City Market can be a part of Beans&Greens.

“It’s really beneficial for the customers,” she said. “They are very appreciative and we hear it every day.

“And farmers love the program. This is money that would have been spent at grocery stores.”

For more information about Beans&Greens, visit beansandgreens.org.

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