Cornell’s Action Research Collaborative (ARC) is partnering with Field & Fork Network to evaluate the impact of the Double Up Food Bucks New York (Double Up NY) program on families that experience food insecurity. Field & Fork Network, a nonprofit that connects communities to solutions that foster a sustainable food system, leads Double Up efforts in New York state.
The Double Up NY program, launched in 2014, is the only statewide nutrition incentive program that provides a dollar-for-dollar match on each purchase of fresh produce for New York Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients. The program also creates new economic opportunities for small and mid-sized New York farmers, since retailers offering Double Up are required to provide a certain percentage of locally sourced produce.
Generating sustainable solutions to food insecurity is one of ARC’s priorities, according to Tashara M. Leak, assistant professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences (College of Human Ecology) and co-director of ARC. Leak’s research and ARC’s partnership with Field & Fork will also continue its mission of supporting action research projects that bring together researchers, community members and policymakers.
“Double Up is a proven intervention to addressing food insecurity and alleviating the burden of purchasing high-cost produce on more than 40,000 families in upstate New York. Also, more than ever, underserved New Yorkers need access to healthy food options to improve nutrition and health.” says Leak, who is co-principal investigator on the project.
At first, Field & Fork Network launched Double Up NY at just seven farmers markets across the western New York region. Now, with the help of several partners and community organizations, Field & Fork Network has expanded Double Up to serve 29 counties through farmer’s markets and stands, co-ops, and even retail locations. With a total of $8.4 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program grant and private funding, Double Up NY has reached over 100,000 SNAP shoppers and their families and supplied more than $2.1 million to underserved NY families.
“At our core we’ve always wanted to look for new innovative ideas on how to improve the food system,” says Lisa French, co-founder and executive director of Field & Fork Network. “When we were introduced to Double Up Food Bucks in 2013, we knew this was a program worth bringing to our community. Rarely do you encounter a program that has benefits for so many: low-income consumers can afford more healthy nutritious foods, local farmers see more money in their pockets, and more federal food assistance dollars go back into the local economy. With ARC, we have the opportunity to better understand our program’s impact across the state.”
Field & Fork Network credits its many partners, such as the American Heart Association (AHA), for the program’s success. In 2020, the need for nutrition programs that decrease barriers to affordability and accessibility became even more apparent. COVID-19 greatly exacerbated issues of food insecurity—particularly for the state’s already vulnerable residents—due to rising levels of unemployment, school closures and general food and supply shortages. The program demand nearly doubled in 2020 and has seen steady growth since.
Now, the program has potential to reach 27 percent of new SNAP customers outside of New York City by 2026. To achieve this, Field & Fork Network and ARC’s Evaluation Unit are exploring innovative ways to increase program participation and leverage additional federal funding. It is estimated that Double Up NY will be able to quadruple the number of people served in New York state with continued federal support.
The Action Research Collaborative’s Evaluation Unit specializes in collecting data to evaluate the impact of initiatives. The Evaluation Unit, led by ARC’s co-directors, and supported by two postdoctoral fellows, Zeynab Jouzi and Ibukun Owoputi, and a research coordinator, will conduct interviews with Double Up NY stakeholders to better understand the landscape for SNAP recipients and farmers in the state to measure the success of Double Up’s implementation and identify new opportunities for growth.
“Growing the Double Up program to serve more New Yorkers requires a more holistic understanding of the actors in the food system—SNAP recipients, farmers, grocers—and how they are all affected by different elements of the system,” says Neil Lewis, Jr., assistant professor in the Department of Communication (College of Agriculture and Life Sciences) and ARC co-director. “The Action Research Collaborative’s partnership with Field & Fork Network will help to grow our collective knowledge about the factors that affect food insecurity in New York State, and grow that knowledge in ways that can be translated into action to improve food security in our state. We hope our collaboration will decrease the barriers to purchasing fresh, local produce through innovative methods that especially ease the burden for low-income families.”