City Agencies Provide ‘Health Bucks’ For Markets
The Health Department and Human Resources Administration have distributed more than $200,000 in free coupons for fresh produce over the past four months, enabling food stamp users to eat healthfully while stretching the value of their federal nutrition subsidies. The produce coupons, known as Health Bucks, increase the value of food stamp benefits by 40 percent when redeemed at participating farmers’ markets in New York City. Whenever a customer spends $5 in food stamp benefits at a participating market, the customer receives a $2 Health Buck redeemable for fresh fruit and vegetables.
The City has distributed Health Bucks through 60 farmers’ markets during the current season, which runs from July through mid-November. That number is up from 49 markets last year – and from 29 in 2006, the Health Bucks program’s second year. The initiative targets neighborhoods where produce consumption is low and where obesity, diabetes and other dietrelated illnesses are widespread.
“The Health Bucks program is one of New York City’s many efforts to make everyday environments conducive to good health,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, New York City Health Commissioner. “We know that fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet. By making them more accessible, programs like this can help lowincome families avoid cancer, high blood pressure and stroke. We’re pleased to see that other jurisdictions across the country are following our lead and implementing similar fresh produce coupon programs for their residents.”
While providing financial incentives, the Health Department also sponsors free cooking and healthy meal planning workshops at 15 markets dubbed “Stellar Farmers’ Markets” to help consumers learn how to stretch food dollars and prepare healthy meals from seasonal produce. Supported by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Stellar Farmers’ Markets reach an average of 35,000 New Yorkers during the market season. A list of markets that host workshops is available at nyc.gov, keyword “Stellar Farmers’ Markets.”
The Health Department also collaborates with local community organizations to ensure that the neediest New Yorkers benefit from the farmers’ markets in their areas. At the Corona Greenmarket in Queens, the Health Department and a partner organization, Public Health Solutions, link people in the federal Women, Infants and Children program (WIC) to farmers’ markets through the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.