Central Iowans are among the worst in the nation for consuming fruits and vegetables. According to the Gallup-Sharecare Well-being Index, Des Moines is ranked 185 out of 186 communities for consuming fruits and vegetables.

Only half of Iowans frequently consume produce at recommended levels. 

One way United Way of Central Iowa is addressing this issue is through a program called Double Up Food Bucks. Eat Greater Des Moines partnered with United Way of Central Iowa to establish and fund the Double Up Food Bucks program to make fresh fruits and vegetables more available to low-income Iowans while supporting family farmers and growing local economies.

A grant to expand

According to Eat Greater Des Moines’ numbers, in 2017, Double Up Food Bucks impacted over 1,600 people at five participating farmers’ markets throughout Iowa.

With a grant from United Way Worldwide and Wells Fargo in 2018, Double Up Food Bucks will expand its reach to additional farmers markets over the next two years, providing greater access to healthy food options for SNAP recipients.

“Besides the fact that we’re able to give people access to fresh healthy produce, it’s doing so by supporting local growers and local farmers, which is really a win-win. It is building community through access to quality food.” - Aubrey Alvarez, director at Eat Greater Des Moines

How it works

Double Up Food Bucks is offered to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) clients. SNAP provides nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families and provides economic benefits to communities

At participating farmers’ markets, a SNAP client can take their EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card to the information booth. EBT is an electronic system that allows a recipient to transfer their government benefits from a federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received. There, they will double the amount of dollars the client intends to spend.

A SNAP client can get up to $10 of their EBT benefits matched each day. In exchange for spending $10 at the farmers' market, they receive $10 in Double Up Food Bucks that can only be spent on local produce.

The Double Up Food Bucks program is currently active in four local farmers markets: Beaverdale, Drake Neighborhood, Historic Valley Junction, and LSI Global Greens.

“You can go to four farmers markets a week and get the $10 in Double Up Food Bucks at each one,” says Nan Hagen, Program Manager.

A benefit for all

Double Up Food Bucks gives clients up to $40 each week to spend on fresh, healthy produce to feed themselves and their families.

"Customers explained that they use vegetables from the market to feed their families now, and they also freeze produce, which allows their families to enjoy these vegetables during the winter months when fresh, local produce is not available,” says Meredith McLean, Double Up Food Bucks Coordinator, who is recruiting new farmers' markets to participate.

The main challenge is getting more people to take advantage of the program. The program coordinator will be able to train vendors and farmers market managers to use a SNAP/EBT machine and generate Double Up Food Bucks programs in more farmers’ markets in the future, giving many more people the convenience of Double Up Food Bucks.

“Our community has one of the lowest rates of fruit and vegetable consumption in the country, and we know that access plays a critical role in whether or not you eat fresh produce. Double Up Food Bucks helps us reach people who otherwise might not be able to afford fresh fruits and veggies.” - Erin Drinnin, community impact officer of health at United Way of Central Iowa

United Way's work in Health

Learn more about how United Way works to give all central Iowans equal opportunity to make healthy choices: 

Learn More

Topics: Essential Needs, Health & Well-Being

Erin Drinnin

Written by Erin Drinnin

Erin Drinnin is United Way's former Community Impact Officer for Essential Needs and Health & Well-Being.