Durham Farmers Market. Photo courtesy of the Durham Farmers Market. 

As the manager of the Durham Farmers’ Market, I have had the privilege of meeting and talking with the many families utilizing our Double Bucks Program. The Double Bucks Program incentivizes the purchase of local food by doubling SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps) and Farmers Market Nutrition Program benefits as well as providing cash for WIC recipients (Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants, and Children) and Durham Housing Authority residents at locations such as farmers’ markets. This is a huge benefit for many individuals and families in our community, especially as food costs continue to rise.

However, the future of the Double Bucks program in the Triangle is uncertain. Current funding is coming to an end, and unless another funder steps forward, families who rely on Double Bucks will have to make do with less in a time when many families are already struggling to put food on their tables.

With the stated goal of ending hunger by 2030, the White House has organized listening sessions throughout the country to evaluate the success of various food benefits programs. What they have found is that these incentive programs like Double Bucks are crucial to alleviating hunger.

We hear a similar sentiment week after week at the farmers’ market. One local teacher described what Double Bucks (DB) means to her: “As a teacher, I can often find myself frustrated with the politics of North Carolina. DB feels almost like a nice reward for hard work that isn’t economically valued. It makes it easier to do what I love and live the life I want. I lost my job during the pandemic and a friend suggested I sign up for EBT. I’ve always been a farmers’ market attendee, but it hasn’t always been the most economical choice. With DB, the farmers’ market is my first choice again for grocery shopping.”

Durham and Orange Counties have one of the strongest, most innovative Double Bucks programs in the country. The program, which started in 2013, now runs at 11 local farmers’ markets. In 2021 alone, the program brought in about $232,000 to the economy from six markets and helped well over 400 families put food on their tables in Durham alone. And it continues to grow; markets saw an 81 percent increase in customers shopping with Double Bucks in the 2020–2021 market season. With proper investment, there are many more SNAP recipients and local farmers who can benefit from this program.

Groups such as the American Heart Association, Rural Advancement Foundation International–USA, Durham County Department of Public Health, and Durham County Cooperative Extension are working tirelessly to find funders so families and farmers will continue to benefit.

We are seeing public investments of the Double Bucks program all over the country; this is what ensures sustainability to these impactful programs. One possible funding source is the American Rescue Program Funds that Durham City and County both received. Many other municipalities are using ARPA to fund their community’s incentive programs. Other possibilities include allocating local government revenue, private sector funding, and individual donations. However it is funded, the Triangle needs to come together to ensure that the program that has helped so many continues to support our farmers and help families thrive.

In the words of a customer, “On Social Security income, I can’t afford to eat non-processed food. The Double Bucks have been a free gift of more food, less depression, and probably a longer and happier life. Being able to feel like a part of society and helping to support local farmers definitely reduces some of the stress of relative poverty.” 

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this op-ed referred to the Double Bucks program as being part of the Durham Food Bank. It is a program of the Durham Farmers Market. 

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