Sustainable Food Center: Making the healthy choice the affordable choice

“Money’s quite tight right now,” says Brittany Johnson, as she watches two-year-old son Grayson run headlong, peach-in-hand after a rogue soccer ball in the park. “Having Double Dollars is like a lifesaver, especially when it comes to bringing healthier foods into our lives.”

Brittany faces a tough choice each time she enters the grocery store: buy the cheap but nutrient-poor foods that will keep her son happy and full; or pay more for the foods she knows her son needs to grow up healthy – and therefore increase the risk of running out of money before her next paycheck.

This is a familiar challenge for the parents of nearly 20 million other children who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and there are no easy answers. But, when supported with modest financial incentives, research has shown that families are eager to invest in health by purchasing more fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is the idea behind programs such as Sustainable Food Center’s Double Dollars project. Sustainable Food Center is an Austin-based organization that seeks to improve the local food system by increasing access to nutritious, affordable food. Double Dollars – which is supported by several public and private funding sources, including the City of Austin and St. David’s Foundation – allows recipients of SNAP and other public nutrition assistance programs (e.g. WIC, FMNP) to double the value of their benefits when buying fruits and vegetables grown by local farmers.

For parents receiving an average of $1.40 per person per meal in SNAP benefits and trying to find the best bang for their buck, a doubling of their fruit and vegetable purchasing power tilts the equation in favor of making the healthy choice.

As funders, our support of Sustainable Food Center is part of a strategy to drive both systems change and direct impact. At the systems level, we want to help grow the evidence base that demonstrates these programs’ impact on families, local farmers, and healthcare systems. This will help to quantify the social and economic return on investment to our nations’ food and health systems. We are also excited about the ongoing expansion of these programs into traditional grocery stores, making it possible to reach families wherever they shop while also nudging retailers to stock more local fruits and vegetables.

Moreover, the direct impact on families is straightforward. By putting resources straight into the wallets of shoppers like Brittany, programs such as Double Dollars help to make the healthy choice the easy choice. By supporting Sustainable Food Center, we are getting one step closer to our annual goal of improving the health and wellness of over one million children and their families across the United States.