Online map helping SNAP customers find local produce
Saturday, June 19, 2021
|The Recorder, By CHRIS LARABEE, Staff Writer
The South Deerfieldbased Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture (CISA) is continually updating an online map directing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers to local farm stands and markets participating in the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP).
HIP provides $40 to $80 of extra SNAP benefits each month when customers purchase local produce at authorized farm stands, farmers markets and CISA programs throughout the Pioneer Valley. All Massachusetts residents currently receiving SNAP benefits are eligible for HIP, according to the state website.
CISA TerraCorps member Sarah Lucia said the idea for the map, which was launched in March, came around in November 2020 when local service agencies were trying to figure out a way to promote HIP benefits.
“One of the ideas we had was to take the HIP locations that we were already putting in a list and updating every month,” Lucia said. “Originally the idea was, ‘Is there a way for people to search for a HIP location by their own ZIP code?’ And then the idea of a map came out of that conversation.”
The map can be accessed on a computer or smartphone. When a user enters their location, a list of HIP-eligible farm stands and markets that are open during that month appears. Locations are sorted by distance and the listing gives a short description of the business along with its address, hours and contact information.
Lucia said creating the map was relatively simple because CISA is already engaged with many local farmers in the region and the information was already in a Google Document that is sent to service partners monthly.
“We’ve been trying to stay up-to-date with who is eligible to process a HIP transaction,” Lucia said. “We had to kind of pull it together from all the different months that we’ve sent out since some locations are only open in the summer.”
Lucia hopes CISA will continue to use and update the map throughout the year and into the future.
Joshua Faller, the food access and equity manager at Greenfield-based community farm Just Roots, said SNAP and HIP benefits, which Just Roots accepts, are helpful programs for the community, especially those adversely affected by the pandemic.
“HIP is an incredible program and it’s gotten easier to use. ? It’s wonderful to see more farmers, more producers being able to offer HIP so that the ability to use HIP can get into more communities,” Faller said. “Everybody was hit so hard during COVID and food security really took a dive for a lot of folks.”
Faller said CISA’s map is a useful local initiative that complements the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance’s resources.
“It’s wonderful that there’s overlap,” Faller said. “CISA is an excellent organization. They’re really critical to small farms and the robustness of agriculture in the region.”
Leanne Dowd, the Shelburne Falls Senior Center’s outreach coordinator, said the center’s more tech-savvy seniors have found the map to be useful. She said she loves the map, and called HIP an “absolutely phenomenal program.”
“I use it, but not all seniors use it,” Dowd said. “They found it really helpful. I have some people, once I emailed this to them the first time, they’re like, ‘Oh that’s great to know, now I’ll just make that a part of my checking.'”
C I S A’s HIP map can be accessed at buylocalfood.org/ hip-map.