US Department of Agriculture Consults with PRCHN Faculty

ssociate Director Darcy Freedman, PhD, was asked by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to share information about four PRCHN studies that affect the reach, adoption, and impact of farmers’ markets by people receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. At the heart of these programs is FM Tracks, a novel iOS application and web-based portal co-created by Dr. Freedman. FM Tracks allows market managers to quickly and easily collect, manage, and evaluate information about their markets in real time. Most importantly, managers can use FM Tracks to track transaction data specifically for SNAP and other federal nutrition benefit programs including healthy food incentive funding.

Along with Elizabeth Littman, Senior Director of Government Relations for the CWRU School of Medicine, Dr. Freedman met with USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon and Jerold Mande, Senior Advisor to the Under Secretary, Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services. In addition, they met with members of the House and Senate Agriculture sub-committees. Approximately 47 million Americans receive SNAP benefits, and many recipients live in communities with restricted access to food stores that offer a wide variety of affordable and healthy products. Fruit and vegetable consumption is particularly low among SNAP recipients. Farmers’ markets can help make fresh fruits and vegetables an attractive, affordable, and accessible food choice.

USDA has made considerable investments in the use of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets. However, it’s sometimes difficult for the agency to quantify the return on investment. In addition, large scale programs have traditionally had a long lag time between implementation and evaluation. FM Tracks provides consistent, real-time data to help key decision makers see how and where healthy food incentive funding, supported by the 2014 Farm Bill, is being used by SNAP recipients.

Dr. Freedman called the consultation “extremely positive” and will be presenting at a USDA program directors meeting in mid-August. USDA representatives and elected officials were impressed by the momentum the PRCHN has generated through its local, state, and national partnerships. “The time is right,” Dr. Freedman notes. “This is a great opportunity for the PRCHN to disseminate its research to inform discussions at local, state, and national levels to improve nutritious food access among low-income populations.”