Twice as nice

State program provides additional nutritional options

EVART — Cooking food with fresh ingredients is good for the mind, body and soul. Area residents interested in making their grocery dollars stretch as far as possible without compromising health benefits can participate in a program that can double their haul from the Evart Farmers Market.

Beginning June 1, area residents who participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will be able to double their money when shopping at select farmers markets involved with the Double Up Food Bucks program, according to Downtown Big Rapids Market Master Mary Bechaz.

“Anybody that has a SNAP Bridge Card can come to me at the market and swipe the card for say, $20. They use the SNAP card for $20 and they get an extra $20, so in essence they have $40 to spend,” she said. “They get little wooden coins they can spend at any of the vendors, as long as it’s fresh stuff like vegetables and fruits.”

The Evart Farmers Market is also participating in the state-run Double Up Food Bucks program, according to Renee Sanders, nutrition instruction for Michigan State University Extension in Osceola County.

“This is the third year Evart has done the Double Up Food Bucks,” she said. “It’s very popular why wouldn’t it be? You get free money for food.”

Double Up Food Bucks program runs from June 1 through Oct. 31, so area residents can enjoy an entire season of fresh produce, Bechaz said. Participants must be part of the SNAP program, which, for a four-person household, means less than $2,628 in gross monthly income.

“It’s so important for people to eat healthy,” she said. “I always hear, ‘I can’t afford to eat healthy.’ Yes, you can now with getting this extra money to spend at the farmers market.”

There are a variety of reasons to choose fresh foods, which can provide a wide array of nutritional benefits, according to Tiarra Wright, worksite wellness specialist for MSUE.

“With fresh food, we like to encourage the variety of things you can do to incorporate a rainbow of colors on your plate,” she said. “Then people can take advantage of the energy and nutrients involved with fresh foods and vegetables in particular.”

There are lots of ways to get really creative with fresh fruits and vegetables, Wright said. Different types of food offer different benefits that can help with blood pressure or stabilize other chronic conditions, she added.

“You can liven up your water by adding fresh fruits like strawberries or lemons, vegetables, like cucumbers or herbs, like mint,” she said. “Adding those fresh fruits and vegetables can bring freshness to your water to liven it up and give it a kind of flavor booster.

“We encourage people to work more with fresh foods by adding a cooking activity with your kids, or even with other adults. For example, you can make a vegetable or fruit pizza, with low-fat vanilla yogurt and all your favorite toppings on a graham cracker crust. It’s a great way to get in those fresh foods and vegetables as an added treat.”

Area residents searching for a guide to make sure that what they are eating is providing their bodies with what they need should visit Choosemyplate.gov, Sanders said.

“Nutrition is important because without it our bodies won’t work properly,” she said. “We need to make our plate look like the choosemyplate icon at every meal. Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables, with a quarter grains and a quarter proteins – and you should have dairy at every meal.”

The Double Up Food Bucks program doesn’t just benefit the area residents who can bring home twice as much fresh produce, Bechaz said, it is good for farmers and the local economy.

“The farmers make more money participating in the program because they are reimbursed by the state, and the program brings more people into the downtown area,” she said. “It’s a win-win situation for everybody.”

Area residents interested in participating in the SNAP program should contact the Northern Mid-Michigan Department of Health and Human Services office at (231) 796-4300 or visit the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service SNAP website at fns.usda.gov/snap/.