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Katy Kolker is executive director of the Portland Farmers Market, which has seen a benefit from a food program lawmakers could continue this year.

PMG FILE PHOTO - Portland's Farmers Market, and other markets around the region, have benefitted from the Double Up Food Bucks. Oregon lawmakers could extend the program.Food insecurity has nearly doubled since the start of the pandemic, and today one in four Oregonians are food insecure.

The public health and economic impacts of the pandemic have fallen hardest on people who have faced systemic inequities for generations: communities of color, immigrants and refugees, single parents and caregivers, and trans and gender non-conforming people. Almost one million Oregonians depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps) to put food on their tables.

SNAP works to feed people experiencing hunger, and it works even better when paired with incentives that help families bring home more fruits and vegetables. The Double Up Food Bucks program gives SNAP participants access to farm-fresh produce they may otherwise be unable to afford. For every dollar spent on SNAP-eligible foods at participating farmers markets, SNAP participants receive an additional dollar to spend on fruits and veggies, up to $10 per visit.

For 10-plus years, farmers markets in the metro area have raised funds from local businesses, foundations and federal grants to assure that Double Up Food Bucks can provide extra fruits and vegetables to thousands of families experiencing hunger. The dramatic increase in food insecurity caused by the pandemic has resulted in a dramatic increase in demand for Double Up.

SNAP and Double Up sales have doubled at Portland Farmers Market's five locations since 2019, and farmers markets statewide have reported similar increases, from Baker City and Bend to Roseburg and Tillamook. In addition to distributing more than $385,000 in Double Up funds to shoppers at farmers markets across Oregon in 2020, the program leveraged more than $710,000 in SNAP sales, resulting in more than $1 million in sales for local producers at farmers markets alone.

Each week at dozens of farmers markets statewide, SNAP participants enjoy purchasing fresh produce in a safe, friendly, community gathering space and connect with those who grow their food. Farmers get to share their stories and build relationships with their shoppers.

In Salem, right now, Senate Bill 555 stands ready to fund the continuation and expansion of Double Up Food Bucks to more Oregon farmers markets, CSA sites and independently owned grocery stores. But legislators need to hear from the community that we support it. We know it works to increase healthy food access for low-income families; why not expand the program to more shoppers and more outlets for local produce?

Without continued state funding, the program will likely be forced to drastically limit the number of participating sites in the next biennium. Due to the economic impact of COVID-19, this scale back would come at a time when SNAP and Double Up are needed most.

Food security in Oregon is at the highest rate in nearly a century. Supporting Double Up Food Bucks is the perfect investment as we work to rebuild Oregon post-pandemic: families win, farmers win, and Oregon's economy thrives. Please contact your local state senators and representatives and ask them to support SB 555. Visit https://www.doubleuporegon.org/sb-555 to learn more.

Katy Kolker is executive director of the Portland Farmers Market.


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