Inova Health | Buy Fresh, Buy Local: Sourcing Fruits and Vegetables

Benefits/Results

  • Research has shown that every $5 in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) benefits generates as much as $9 of economic activity (The Food Assistance National Input-Output Multiplier Model and Stimulus Effects of SNAP, USDA/ERS October 2010).
  • Eighty-eight percent of farmers’ market customers using SNAP enhancement (food stamps) agreed that additional fruits and vegetables made a difference in their family’s diet. Eighty-one percent also agreed that their ability to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables was due to the Inova Double Dollar Program.
  • During the six-month time period of Inova’s 2012 Double Dollars SNAP Enhancement program, Inova matched $3,472 in SNAP transactions at four local farmers’ markets. That is more than double the $1,494 that was matched in 2011.
  • The USDA, under Secretary Hon. Edward Avalos recognized the importance of this program, stating in a letter to Inova that “Your support in providing healthy fruits and vegetables to underserved communities is instrumental in addressing future health issues.”

Challenge/Situation

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) Healthier Food Challenge explains that the health care sector bears the burden of treating diseases associated with a broken food system. Obesity, diabetes, malnutrition, heart diseases, childhood cancer and other chronic diseases are the costly consequences of a food system that favors nutritionally poor processed foods and relies on heavy use of pesticides and other chemicals. According to the Food Research and Action Center, the underserved population is vulnerable to obesity due to limited resources. The absence of good nutrition along with financial obstacles also leads to other chronic diseases that come along with obesity. It does not only affect the individuals but also the economy, and an estimated $147 billion is spent on annual medical costs.

About

Buy Fresh Buy Local and the HHI Healthier Food Challenge are nationally recognized programs which are dedicated to increasing access to locally sourced fruits and vegetables and to helping patients, staff and visitors recognize the role local, nutritious foods play in creating healthier communities. Inova Health System is committed to promoting healthy, sustainable consumption habits within both its facilities and its local communities. Inova shows its support for this cause in a variety of ways. In addition to tracking its own local food purchases and developing strategies for increasing them, the health care system is the official sponsor of the Northern Virginia Chapter of Buy Fresh Buy Local.

Inova further supports sustainable foods within the community through its innovative Double Dollars program, which supplements the use of SNAP benefits at local farmers’ markets and provides incentives for food stamp recipients to purchase fresh, nutritious, sustainable foods. The program allows consumers to buy fresh fruits and vegetables that otherwise may have been cost-prohibitive by doubling the first $10 in SNAP benefits that are spent at the market. The coordinator of one of the participating farmers’ markets noted that “the majority of those [program participants] queried said they would not use the Farmers’ Market without the double dollar program,” while “all said that they had increased the amount of fresh fruit and vegetables under the program.”

Learn more about Buy Fresh, Buy Local.

Strategy/Actions

In 2012, Inova’s Community Affairs department partnered with four local farmers’ markets to run the Double Dollars Food Stamp Enhancement Program, which allows consumers to stretch their SNAP dollars by doubling the first $10 spent at the market. These markets include the Four Mile Run Farmers’ and Artisans’ Market (Alexandria), Frying Pan Farm Park Farmers’ Market (Herndon), the Manassas Farmers’ Market (Manassas) and the Arcadia Mobile Farm Market (Mount Vernon). Unique to this partnership is the relationship with the Arcadia Center for Sustainable Food and Agriculture, which operates a mobile farmers’ market in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C. Together, these four markets support 35 farmers.

Implementation Process

Though Inova’s Office of Sustainability coordinates many of the organization’s internal sustainable food efforts, the Buy Fresh Buy Local and Double Dollars programs are managed by Inova’s Community Affairs Department with support from the Office of Sustainability where requested. The Community Affairs team worked closely with partners at local farmers’ markets and businesses in developing and scaling these initiatives. Inova established partnerships with Whole Foods of Vienna and Whole Foods Market Old Town to raise money for the program, and also worked with the Alexandria Childhood Obesity Action Network to raise community awareness about the program by advertising in local newspapers, flyers and posters.

In addition to these efforts, Inova also created a web page, Twitter account and Facebook page to share information about the benefits of nutrition and good health. The team also distributed 37,000 Buy Fresh, Buy Local guides through private and public partners and created an interactive Google Map with a list of all the farmers’ markets in Northern Virginia, including their hours of operation and locations. Physicians from the Inova Medical Group and representatives from Inova’s HealthSource services held seminars at Whole Foods Market Vienna and Old Town covering topics regarding nutrition and health. Inova was also able to establish partnerships with Whole Foods Market Vienna and Old Town to raise $9,086 in support of the food stamp enhancement program.

Challenges and Lessons Learned

  • Start small. In the Double Dollars program’s first year, the scale was deliberately limited to two farmers’ markets and only a few key partners as the process was established and obstacles addressed. This helped facilitate communication between partners, and also allowed for closer insight into specific successes and gaps in the program. This smaller pilot run in the program’s first year helped prepare the team for its eventual expansion in the 2012 season.
  • Don’t do it alone. When working on community projects, be sure to reach out to established community organizations that specialize in an area related toyour programming (food, transportation, waste, etc). These organizations can help lessen the workload, identify additional opportunities, provide vital insights and connect you to other groups or individuals who may be of assistance. They are also often looking for new partners to help further their own missions, so it can be a powerful opportunity for creating new, lasting community partnerships.
  • Go multilingual. In order to measure the effectiveness of the program, a survey was distributed to the managers of each participating farmer’s market, who were asked to administer the survey to Double Dollars program participants. Though most participants responded to the English-based questionnaires, several were unable to respond to the English version of the survey due to language barriers. In the future, a multilingual survey mechanism may help Inova gain additional insight from additional program participants.

Demographic information

Inova Health System is a not-for-profit health care system based in Northern Virginia that serves more than two million people each year from throughout the Washington, D.C. metro area and beyond. Governed by a volunteer board of community members, Inova is a nationally recognized, comprehensive network of hospitals, outpatient services and facilities, primary and specialty care physician practices, and health and wellness initiatives. Inova’s five hospitals include more than 1,700 licensed beds and 16,000 employees. Inova encompasses the full array of health services, including the area’s only Level 1 trauma center and Level IV neonatal intensive care unit. It is also home to the nationally and internationally recognized Inova Heart and Vascular Institute, Inova Translational Medicine Institute, Inova Neuroscience Institute and Inova Children’s Hospital. Inova’s mission is to improve the health of the diverse community it serves through excellence in patient care, education and research.


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