2016 Local Hero Awardee: Frank Martinez Nocito
Each year, CISA presents Local Hero Awards to farms, businesses, or individuals who exemplify our mission of strengthening farms and engaging the community to build the local food economy. We applaud their hard work, social responsibility, and many contributions to sustaining local agriculture.
Frank Martinez Nocito, Assistant Director of SNAP Nutrition Education for the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), has devoted his career to advocating for public health. Over the past decade, he has consistently and successfully brought local food into the conversation about healthy eating and food access.
After earning his Master’s Degree in Food Policy and Applied Nutrition from the Tufts Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, Frank joined the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome, Italy. There he worked to develop nutritional guidelines to help combat global and regional health issues such as diet-related diseases and malnutrition.
Returning to western Massachusetts five years later, Frank joined the Springfield-based Partners for a Healthier Community. There, his work included Farm to Preschool, a project that sought to help early childhood service providers overcome institutional barriers to buying from local farms.
In 2011, Frank was hired at DTA as the director of a new USDA grant-funded initiative called the Healthy Incentives Pilot (HIP). HIP offered a group of randomly selected SNAP recipients in Hampden County an instant 30 cent credit on their EBT card for every SNAP dollar they spent on fruits and vegetables. HIP demonstrated that offering an incentive for buying fruits and vegetables increased the amount of produce SNAP recipients ate per day by a statistically significant 26%.
HIP was originally designed to focus primarily on mainstream grocery stores, and Frank played a crucial role in advocating for local food providers to have equal opportunity to participate. As part of HIP, DTA and its partners assisted farmers’ markets and farm stands in getting the technology needed to process SNAP and HIP transactions. When asked why he chose to advocate for local food having a place in HIP, Frank responded, “We’re not only aiming to increase access to food in general, but most specifically access to healthy food. Local food is fresher, it lasts longer, and the flexibility of local food providers can help overcome food access barriers in ways that larger grocery stores cannot.”
Building on HIP’s success, Frank led the application process for a USDA grant to make both the financial incentive and the local food component of HIP available to all SNAP clients throughout the state. Starting in the spring of 2017, HIP will become a statewide program that will offer a dollar-for-dollar incentive when SNAP customers spend their benefits on fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets, farm stands, mobile markets, and through CSA shares.
Frank’s commitment to making local food accessible to everyone in our community has helped create programs that both combat food insecurity in the Pioneer Valley and invest SNAP dollars back into the local economy. “Food is a complex issue, whether on a personal level or a policy level,” Frank says. “People really care about what they eat and where it comes from.”