By Andrew Ryan, Globe Staff
A new city program designed to expanded access to locally grown fruits and vegetables will give people vouchers to double the value of food stamps at 14 farmers' markets in Boston.
The vouchers, dubbed Boston Bounty Bucks, are now available at 14 of the city's roughly 22 farmers' markets. Shoppers will be able to swipe their benefit cards on portable credit card readers at the market to receive up to $20 in vouchers by spending $10 worth of food stamps.
"It makes it easier for low-income residents to make healthier food choices and share in the bounty of Massachusetts grown farm fresh fruits and vegetables," said Jim Greene, who works in the office of Mayor Thomas M. Menino.
Boston will join more than a half dozen communities across the country with similar double-voucher programs, including Atlanta, San Diego, Providence, and Holyoke. This afternoon at the Brigham Circle farmers' market in Mission Hill, Menino will introduce Boston Bounty Bucks as he outlines several health initiatives, including a new Food Policy Council.
The mayor hopes to strengthen the relationship with local framers who venture into urban neighborhood to sell their wares. One major goal is to significantly increase the amount of locally grown food that is eaten in Boston.
More than 82,000 Boston residents received food stamp as of May 2008, the most current figure available, according to Greene. The monthly benefits are accessed with an electronic swipe card with a declining balance.
Two years ago the only farmers' market in the city with the technology to accept food stamps was Dudley Town Common. Late last summer, a pilot program that involved Boston Bounty Bucks added seven more farmers' markets, but technical hiccups prevented the initiative from fully taking hold, Greene said. To see a list and schedule for the 14 farmers' markets in the program this year, click here.
The glitches have been corrected, Greene said, and officials hope the program will flourish this season by allowing low-income residents to purchase -- when combined with food stamps -- up to $120,000 worth of locally grown fruits and vegetables. The funding includes $30,000 from the Mayor's Fresh Food Fund and three $10,000 grants from Project Bread, Farm Aid, and Wholesome Wave Foundation, which has helped other communities launch similar double-voucher programs since 2007.
"It provides healthy, locally grown food to those who need it the most," said Michel Nischan, president of Wholesome Wave and a chef who operated a philanthropic restaurant with the late actor Paul Newman in Westport, Conn. "It also benefits the farmers who grow the food."
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