An array of items available at Farmer Dave’s which qualify for HIP

The array of items available at Farmer Dave’s which qualify under the HIP benefit for SNAP recipients. The program is available from farm stands around the state and is a great way to get fresh produce and support local businesses. (Paige Impink photo)

TEWKSBURY/WILMINGTON — Farm stand season is here and if you haven’t already figured it out, these small treasures of agriculture are an ex­cellent way to get fruits, vegetables, milk, butter, eggs and some meats without going into the grocery store. Oh, and don’t forget local honey, baked goods, ice cream and crafts.

Buying local is sometimes perceived as expensive and exclusive, but it is a smart way to keep dol­lars in the community and support small businesses. One way that farm stands also benefit the community is through participation in HIP — the Healthy In­cen­tives Program — which is included as part of SNAP (Supplemental Nu­tri­tion Assistance Program) benefits for those who meet the income guidelines.

Program participants re­ceive $1 in HIP benefits for every dollar of their SNAP benefit spent. The HIP dollars may be spent on fruits and vegetables at farm stands, farmers markets, mobile markets or toward a CSA share. For SNAP participants, HIP benefits may be used at any participating farm vendor in Massachusetts.

Locally, the East Street farm stand in Tewksbury, which is run by Farmer Dave’s, and North of Bos­ton farm at the Wilming­ton Farmer’s Market, are vendors who participate in the program. An interactive map is available a www.massrnc.org/farmlocator to find farms all over Massachusetts with indicators of SNAP and HIP vendors. Benefits may be used at any farm stand in the state as long as they are an approved vendor.

There is a cap on the amount of HIP benefit that can be earned by a SNAP recipient, but the cap is based on family size. Fa­milies with 1-2 people can receive up to $40 worth of eligible product, 3-5 persons up to $60, and six or more persons up to $80 worth of produce.

According to Marilyn Graham, Community Coor­dinator for WIC at Com­munity Teamwork in Lo­well, as long as someone has SNAP money in their account, the benefit can be earned. Graham works with the Women, Infants and Children program, an additional community sup­port program which helps get food to families in need.

Unlike SNAP, WIC does not require a social security number, just a residential address. Graham, who is a participant at the Lo­well Downtown market in the summer months, said the program is popular but wants more residents to know about all of the food programs that are available. Graham recounted a success story from last summer.

“A recipient was so excited to show me the amount of produce she was able to get each week [through HIP], and by the end of the summer, was actually able to come off of some medication due to her much im­proved diet,” said Graham.

Farmers are very generous with the program, and Farmer Dave’s even lists their no sugar applesauce, dried beans, all herbs cut or as plants, and all vegetable plants as qualifying at their stand. Check ahead as each vendor may include different items through the guidelines.

According to the Depart­ment of Transitional Assis­tance, HIP-eligible foods are fresh, canned, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables without added su­gar, salt, fats or oils. For ex­ample, onions, pears, broccoli, fresh herbs, can­ned tomatoes, applesauce, fro­zen berries, and dried mush­rooms, are all HIP foods.

As the future of outdoor summer farmers markets is uncertain during the pan­demic, farm stands are still operating using social distancing protocols and welcoming SNAP recipients. Graham said that during the summer there are up to four farmers at the Lowell market that ac­cept benefits, and that the winter market, currently running on Sundays from 11 a.m. - 2 p.m. at Mill No. 5 in Lowell, also accepts SNAP.

Residents should keep their eyes open for pop-up drive through markets that are pivoting to serve customers via a new model.

During this time of in­creased economic uncertainty, there are additional programs to help individuals and family with food assistance. The PEBT — pandemic electronic benefits, for example, is a new program for families with children in the schools who qualify for free and reduced lunch as a way to received additional food supplements from the federal government.

There are also local programs such as the 8,600 gallons of free milk which was given out at Boston College High School from dairy farmers and free meals given out at Gillette Stadium through the Food4Vets program. Com­mu­nity Teamwork lists these opportunities as they learn of them on their Facebook page, so recipients are encouraged to check on­line frequently.

Resources for Food Benefits

https://www.mass.gov/forms/apply-for-wic-online

www.meals4kids.org

https://www.map-ebt.org/

DTA offices are closed but they are still accepting phone calls and applications online.

• DTA Assistance line (877) 382-2363

https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/

How to apply online for Food Stamps:

https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/

How to apply online for Cash Assistance:

https://dtaconnect.eohhs.mass.gov/

How to Submit Docu­ments to the DTA online:

https://www.mass.gov/how-to/submit-documents-to-the-department-of-transitional-assistance

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