Reed says new federal funds will expand economic opportunities for farmers and fishermen and beef up healthy food supply chains for families through the Bonus Bucks nutrition incentives program

PROVIDENCE, RI – In a win for local farmers, fisherman, and families, Farm Fresh Rhode Island is being awarded two new federal grants: $1.6 million to expand access to fresh, locally grown foods across New England and over $538,000 to bring farmers, fishermen, and consumers together to create a stronger local economy and develop new market opportunities for fishermen and producers serving local markets. 

Today, U.S. Senator Jack Reed joined Farm Fresh Rhode Island staff and producers to discuss two new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) grants.

“Farm Fresh Rhode Island has a proven track record of sustainably growing our food economy.  These new federal funds will allow them to expand their reach, connect more families to fresh produce, and help farmers and fishermen build their business through new market opportunities,” said Senator Reed.

A National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) award will extend funding for the Rhode Island Bonus Bucks nutrition incentives program in Rhode Island along with 6 other projects across New England.  Bonus Bucks deliver a 100% match for fresh fruits and vegetables for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) users at select Rhode Island farmers markets and farm stands — doubling the purchasing power of low-income Rhode Islanders to help them buy more nutritious foods and re-seed those federal dollars into the Ocean State economy by directly supporting local growers and food businesses. This infusion of funding secures funding for the program into early 2023.  

“I commend Farm Fresh for ensuring lower-income families have access to fresh, local food.  This is a win-win to help families in need and boost the economy while strengthening our local food system,” said Senator Reed.

“We have seen tremendous growth in the use of our Bonus Bucks program over the past two years.  Use of the program jumped over 70% over the summer and we are on track to distribute roughly $250,000 in matching funds to local Rhode Islanders using SNAP to buy locally grown produce from local farms. This program is built to have a triple bottom line: supporting healthy eating for Rhode Island residents, strengthening the local agricultural economy, and also building environmental resiliency by making sure farms stay in business and make direct connections with their nearby shoppers. We are thrilled that USDA has extended funding for this critical program.” said Thea Upham, Director of Programs at Farm Fresh Rhode Island. 

In 2019, the Bonus Bucks program helped more than 2,500 shoppers buy fresh produce at 36 farmers markets across Rhode Island. 

Additionally, a new Farmers Market Promotion Program grant will help grow opportunities for fishermen and farmers markets to offer more fresh, locally caught seafood products.  The federal funds will be used to launch a statewide marketing and outreach campaign to promote local seafood and farm producers across Rhode Island, while also providing training and technical assistance for farmers and fishermen to expand their existing businesses to make sales at farmers markets and dockside outlets. 

“This federal grant will help build on the state’s new law allowing fishermen to get a license to sell certain seafood straight from their docked boats to consumers and retailers.  It should help educate both fishermen and consumers and boost local seafood sales at farmers markets and dockside outlets,” said Reed.

“We are looking forward to strengthening opportunities for local fishermen to access direct sales through training and technical assistance to both producers and farmers market managers over the coming 3 years.” said Upham.

The American Rescue Plan invested more than $12 billion in nutrition assistance nationwide to address immediate hardships caused by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.  It extended a 15 percent boost in SNAP benefits through September 2021, which resulted in an additional $11 million directed to Rhode Island.  It also extended the Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer (P-EBT) program, which helps families whose children qualify for free and reduced-price school meals, with Rhode Island expected to receive $25 million by the end of the year, and directed about $3.6 million in new funds to help Rhode Island with administrative costs related to connecting eligible people in need to nutrition assistance.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island sprouted from a 2004 student project at Brown University to develop a direct connection between Rhode Island farmers and residents and has grown into a nationally recognized non-profit with a dedicated team of over 50 full- and part-time/seasonal employees headquartered at a new 60,000-square-foot local food hub in Providence.

During today’s tour, Reed also got a look at Farm Fresh’s Holiday Box of Local Goodies, a collection of locally sourced items made in Rhode Island which make great holiday gifts and support local growers and artisans.