Dreaming Big in the Buckeye State
COLUMBUS, OH—Dreaming big—that’s how Amy Baskes, manager of Veggie SNAPS, describes the mindset among Ohio’s nutrition incentive programs since Wholesome Wave began working there several years ago.
Each of Ohio’s three largest cities—Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland—is home to a nutrition incentive program, but until two years ago there was no coordination or communication between the three. That changed when Wholesome Wave began partnering with all three programs, including Veggie SNAPS, with support from the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program.
“Even applying to the FINI grant was something that wouldn’t have been possible for us without Wholesome Wave’s help,” says Baskes, whose Veggie SNAPS nutrition incentive program serves central Ohio, including Columbus. “They brought momentum and clout to our discussions and allowed us to think big. We knew, and our funders knew, that Wholesome Wave had been at the table in Farm Bill discussions even before FINI was created, and they had experience running statewide nutrition incentive programs.”
Now, that three-year FINI grant is funding the expansion of programs in Columbus, Cincinnati and Cleveland as well as the development of a statewide network.
“There’s efficiency in the notion that we are operating one program and we don’t all have to invent our own marketing and branding, training manuals and workshops,” Baskes explains. “There’s efficiency and capacity that appeals to everyone who is running these programs, and together we would have the ability to leverage greater investments and ultimately serve more residents.”
Veggie SNAPS has already more than doubled the number of farmers markets they serve in Columbus and Franklin County, from 6 to 13; 66 markets now offer incentives across Ohio. The famous, bustling Pearl Market in downtown Columbus began offering incentives in 2015, allowing SNAP customers to double their fruit and vegetable purchasing power. One Tuesday afternoon, a Columbus resident named Robin took advantage of the program while on the hunt for onions and peppers. In the summer months, she chooses the market over the grocery store.
“I can double my money here, and I know it is wholesomely grown and healthier,” she said. “I think it’s just an amazing, amazing thing.”
In a few more years, SNAP shoppers like Robin might be able to double their SNAP dollars at grocery stores, making access to affordable healthy food more convenient. Veggie SNAPS is piloting a retail outlet location later this year as well as a Fruit and Vegetable Prescription (FVRx) Program® and a mobile market.
“Since we started partnering with Wholesome Wave,” Baskes says, “dreaming big has been baked into how we operate.”