Food assistance allows spending at local farmers markets

  • Customers browse the produce at Red Fire Farm’s produce stand at a Greenfield Winter Farmers Market. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/Matt Burkhartt


For the Gazette
Tuesday, February 13, 2018

So, there I was at the Winter Farmers Market at Greenfield’s Four Corners School, as I normally am on the first Saturday of every month, and I kept seeing this little sign that read “HIP,” and “HIP eligible.” Now, I consider myself to be hip — totally ready to rap about jazz greats like Miles, Trane, Bird and Monk. So, I bellied over to the nearest HIP booth, which just happened to belong to my old friends Erv and Gloria Meluleni of Coyote Hill Farm in Bernardston. “Yo!” I said to Gloria.

I quickly discovered that I was way off. HIP stands for the Healthy Incentives Program, which allows people to extend their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) allocation by buying fresh vegetables and fruit from local farm retailers, and getting an instant rebate that can be spent on any SNAP eligible purchase — including those of a non-vegetable kingdom.

This means that you could buy some fresh leeks and squash (perfect for a winter soup) from Erv and Gloria, and then take your rebate next door to Natty Hussey of Bostrom Farm where you can spend the SNAP dollars on some masterful bacon (for that same winter soup, or perhaps for roast Brussels sprouts).

In the process, you would leave with some terrific farm-fresh items, having boosted at least two local farm retailers and having saved a pretty penny on your SNAP card. This I absolutely consider to be HIP. It is downright cool!

Devon Whitney-Deal of Beaumont’s Berries in Conway manages the Local Hero Program for CISA. Whitney-Deal who was on hand in a third-and-unofficial-capacity helping people sign on to HIP, explained HIP-eligible purchases can be made at farmers markets, farm stands or mobile markets or through CSA farm shares.

There are, she added, monthly limits: $40 for one to two people, $60 for three to five people or $80 for six or more people. But the benefit is too valuable to be quiet about.

“We can’t food bank ourselves out of hunger and nutrition problems,” said Whitney-Deal. “This is federal money with a state match, and we’ll do a lot of outreach to keep it going.

Retailers and customers agree.

“We all set,” said Mariline Wheeler, who was shopping the HIP farm booths with her friend Mercy McLaughlin. “It’s a lot better than a food pantry.”

“It’s been very good for us and our customers,” said Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield.

David Paysnick of Rainbow Harvest Farm in Greenfield, manages the Winter Farmers Market. He said that while HIP rebates account for an important part of his overall business, it is underutilized.

“For all those who use the program, there are hundreds, if not thousands, who don’t know about it,” he said.

To learn more about HIP, visit: bit.ly/2qqOhwc. To learn more about SNAP eligibility, visit: bit.ly/2ElBBgP. There is also a local HIP Facebook page at: www.facebook.com/HIP.PioneerValley/

Wesley Blixt is a freelance writer who lives in Greenfield. He can be reached at wesleyblixt@me.com