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Indianapolis farmer's market has anti-hunger initiatives

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According to IndyHunger.org, 50 million Americans, one out of every six, struggle with getting access to adequate healthy, nutritious food. What's that mean for us? It means that 313,880 people in central and southeast Indiana have a hunger problem.

The Original Farmer's Market at the Indianapolis City Market has a two-fold strategy to fix this problem: the Buy Two, Give One program and the Fresh Bucks program.

The Buy Two, Give One program encourages shoppers to buy two of a product and donate one to Wheeler Mission. According to Indianapolis City Market manager Stevi Stoesz, the donations are "averaging 150 lbs a week in donations to Wheeler Mission."

The Fresh Bucks program "doubles the buying power for fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, honey and syrup, seedlings and plants, as well as [hickory syrup]," Stoesz wrote. For every dollar in SNAP spent, the person will receive one dollar in Fresh Bucks. In other words, for $10 SNAP, you get $20 Fresh Bucks.

"The [Fresh Bucks] program is a Specialty Crop Block Grant through the Indiana State Department of Agriculture that doubles SNAP purchases for fresh fruits and vegetables," Stoesz wrote in an e-mail. "Fresh Bucks is the SNAP doubling initiative. Nick Mink applied for a grant to execute and administer the grant to farmers’ markets where it was thought redemption rates would be high. ... We are currently averaging $1,000 in SNAP/Fresh Bucks combined."

Where did the idea come from? Mostly due to the reputation of downtown Indianapolis being a food desert, or an area where it is hard to find fresh produce yet easy to find junk food.

"Since the Original Farmers’ Market is in an urban area, we really felt like there was a large segment of the population that wasn’t being served by NOT offering SNAP," Stoesz wrote. "We knew that Bloomington Farmers’ Market had had moderate success in offering SNAP, so we reached out to our contacts at ISDA to investigate it further, and ultimately came to the conclusion that our customer base and the farmers’ market producers could mutually benefit from offering SNAP at the market."

It's a much-needed effort, according to IndyHunger.org. The facts about hunger in Indiana are shocking.

  1. The number of persons living in poverty in Gleaners' 21-county service area is up 27% since 2008 and up 100% since 2000. The nine highest-capacity food pantries in Marion County report a fifty-four percent average increase in the number of clients served in 2011. A third of these pantries reported increases of one hundred percent or more.
  2. Forty-two of food insecure people in central and southeastern Indiana have incomes that make them ineligible for federal nutrition programs--making their only source of food assistance private charities.
  3. "For the majority of people seeking food assistance, pantries are now a part of households' long term strategies to supplement monthly shortfalls in food," the site reads. "Families no longer visit 'emergency food' sources for temporary relief, but rely on food pantries as a supplemental food source."
  4. A recent Feeding America study reveals that 17.4 percent of Marion County residents are food
    insecure, as are 22.5 percent of the county’s children.
  5. "In 2011, 86 percent of the students enrolled in Indianapolis Public Schools received free
    or reduced-cost lunches," the site reads.
  6. Thirty-six percent of pantries, 76 percent of soup kitchens, and 16 percent of emergency shelters served by Gleaners reported that they serve more children in summer.
  7. In 2010, 11.4 percent of all seniors experienced some form of food insecurity. Of these, about 2.5 million were at risk of hunger and about 750,000 suffered from hunger due to financial constraints.
  8. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that Indiana's poverty rate increased to 16.3 percent. That's one percentage point higher than the national average. However, in Marion County, the number of people in poverty has doubled.
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