Editorial: Farmers, families in need all benefit from underutilized incentives program

Want to support HIP? Click here to find out how!

The Recorder, January 23, 2018

We are headed for the deep freeze of winter with Franklin County’s roadside farm stands mostly boarded up. But that doesn’t mean local SNAP recipients can’t keep taking advantage of a state program that gives up to $80 per family for healthy, farm-fresh food.

The Healthy Incentives Program allows people to extend their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) allocation by buying fresh vegetables and fruits from local farm retailers, and getting an instant rebate that can be spent on another SNAP-eligible purchase.

In Greenfield in January, this means that neighbors in need can go to the monthly Winter Farmers Market from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Four Corners School on the first Saturday and buy things like leeks and squash, and then take the rebate to another vendor, who might be selling other root crops or meat.

HIP is a great deal for those consumers — who can stretch their buying power and get fresh, locally grown food at a bargain — and for the farmers, who make more in sales.

HIP-eligible purchases can be made at farmers markets, farm stands or mobile markets or though CSA farm shares, so they are an even better and more accessible deal in the growing season.

The monthly limits are $40 for one to two people, $60 for three to five people or $80 for six or more people. The benefit, funded with federal and state money, is too valuable to skip.

Since last April, more than 200 farms have sold nearly $3 million in produce through HIP. About 34 percent of 35,400 households participating include children, and 50 percent include seniors. But there are more who could use the help locally.

Rainbow Harvest’s David Paysnick, who manages the Winter Farmers Market, said that while HIP rebates account for an important part of his overall business, it is underutilized.

Organizers at the Mass. Food System Collaborative are hoping to encourage the state Legislature to provide more state matching money to broaden the program.

Every dollar allocated to HIP is a direct investment in the health of the state’s poorer residents, the local farm economy, and our natural resources protected by our farmers.

“By bringing thousands of new individuals and families to farmers’ markets across the state, HIP has facilitated countless new relationships between shoppers, farmers, families, and food that have the potential to impact food choices for generations,” Paysnick told the Greenfield Recorder.

Local implementation of HIP is supported by Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture, The Food Bank of Western Mass, Mass. in Motion, and other community organizations.

We join them in urging expansion of HIP.

Like the collaborative, we would like to see the House Committee on Ways and Means include $6.2 million in its Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposal for HIP, which would grow this worthwhile program just in time to bring yet more food from farm to table — for an increasing number of households.