FORT BRAGG, CA, 3/24/23 — The Mendocino Coast’s beloved local grocery company Harvest Market is now the first brick-and-mortar store in California to offer the new “CA Fruit and Veggie EBT Pilot Program,” an initiative that allows recipients of CalFresh food benefits to receive a $1 “incentive” (or refund) for every $1 of California produce they purchase, up to $60 each month. While similar programs have debuted at farmer’s markets (including the Fort Bragg market) and in grocery stores in other states, Harvest Market’s is the only in-store program currently operating in the U.S.
To take advantage of the program, EBT cardholders can pay for their local produce (marked at both Harvest Market stores with the label “Garden Fresh”) on their cards, and receive an instant refund — no paper or back-and-forth involved. This essentially gives cardholders $60 more each month to purchase groceries.
“That ends up reducing hunger because people have greater food budgets, improving health because people are able to eat more nutritiously, and [supporting] the California agricultural economy,” said Eli Zigas, food and agriculture policy director for the nonprofit San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), which partnered with Harvest Market to make the program a reality. “So really, what we see with this program is a triple win.”
Zigas hosted an announcement of the program on Friday, in Harvest’s Fort Bragg location as people did their grocery shopping. The event was also attended by representatives for the Fort Bragg Food Bank, the city’s vice mayor, a representative for Assemblymember Jim Wood, Harvest executives and workers, and community members.
“I want us all to work together and make sure that we get the word out to people and families in the community, so that they know about this” said Vice Mayor Jason Godeke. “It’s a great opportunity, and we want them to take advantage of it.”
The news also comes alongside the end of CalFresh benefits, which had been enhanced due to the COVID-19 emergency. Assemblymember Joaquin Arambula is one of the officials who authored the bipartisan Assembly Bill 605, which would help provide the California Department of Social Services with funding to scale the new program to assist many more Californians.
“[Five] million Californians who rely on CalFresh will receive at least $95 less each month to put food on their tables,” he wrote in The Fresno Bee on Friday about the end to COVID-19 benefits. “This change will especially impact older adults — their allocations will be slashed by more than $250 each month.”
The Fruit and Veggie EBT Pilot Program, which will soon roll out to other stores in the Bay Area and Southern California, aims in part to offset this hit.
“I feel like a lot of people are looking at their checkbooks and going, ‘What am I going to do next month?’” said Amanda Friscia, executive director of the Fort Bragg Food Bank.
She also highlighted the Food Bank’s new choice pantry, which will allow people to shop for free goods rather than getting curbside pick-up or delivery of a pre-assembled box.
“We’re going to try and encourage people to come to the food bank first as a resource, and see what you can get here,” she told The Mendocino Voice. “You’re not going to find everything you need, your specific stuff, but then you can go to the grocery store and not have to spend a whole ton of money.”
Zigas lauded Harvest Market Vice President Jennifer Bosma, who has been working with his team to launch the program since fall of 2020.
“What distinguishes the [retailers] who raise their hand first is a deep, deep commitment to their community,” he said. “Every time I told Jennifer, ‘It’s more months of delay, it’s taking longer than we thought, I’m so sorry,’ she said, ‘Well, I’m still committed, because I want to see this in the community. There are so many people who need this help, and I want to be able to offer it to them.’”
Bosma thanked her staff for not only readying the store for the announcement, but also working on labeling and other logistics to launch the program smoothly.
“My dad started the store in 1985,” Bosma said. “He built this store for the community and has helped thousands of organizations and people throughout our time here, and I am proud to carry on that legacy.”
Learn more about the program here, and see a sample receipt below. Click here to see if you are eligible for CalFresh or other Mendocino County food resources.PDF Embedder requires a url attribute
Note: Kate Fishman covers the environment & natural resources for The Mendocino Voice in partnership with a Report For America. Her position is funded by the Community Foundation of Mendocino, Report for America, & our readers. You can support Fishman’s work with a tax-deductible donation here or by emailing [email protected]. Contact her at KFishman@mendovoice.com or at (707) 234-7735. The Voice maintains editorial control and independence.