Supporting Local Research to Expand Healthy Food Access

CalFresh Awareness Month!

Berkeley Food Network’s 9th Street Pantry recently served as a test site for a future pilot intervention with the University of California Nutrition Policy Institute (NPI). This pilot intervention aims to identify novel ways to let SNAP (CalFresh in California) recipients know about a program that could get them additional money for locally-grown fruits and vegetables.

The evaluation project, conducted by NPI and funded by the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), will be the first of its kind in California. Through a texting campaign, it aims to increase the use of the Market Match program by broadening awareness and usage among CalFresh recipients.

Market Match is a California Nutrition Incentive Program (CNIP), that matches customers’ CalFresh and WIC benefits at participating farmers’ markets up to a certain dollar amount, essentially doubling the amount of CalFresh dollars recipients have to spend on locally-grown fruits and vegetables. This crucial nutrition assistance program improves healthy food access, supports California’s small farms, and stimulates local economies.

NPI worked with the Ecology Center, the organization administering the grant that funds Market Match, to identify local markets with low participation in the program. Ron Strochlic, an NPI Academic Coordinator and member of the study research team says there’s often a gap in Market Match awareness among CalFresh recipients. 

“I was just talking to [a BFN pantry member] who gets CalFresh, shops at her local farmers market and had no idea about Market Match,” said Strochlic.

The project’s team spent the afternoon recruiting 9th Street Pantry shoppers also utilizing CalFresh to pilot test a series of text messages about the program and provide feedback after receiving the messages. Participants were interviewed to gauge the messages’ clarity and saliency and measure the likelihood the participants would use the program because of the messages. Community members who participated received a $25 Target gift card for their help in improving the content of the text messages.

The pilot test conducted at BFN’s 9th Street pantry was NPI’s first real-world testing of the text messages developed for the upcoming study. The team will use the qualitative feedback they collected to refine the messaging used in the actual study, which will include CalFresh participants from neighborhoods near local farmers’ markets with low Market Match participation,. The study will eventually expand next year to include additional farmer’s markets across the state. 

Samantha Sam-Chen, former BFN pantry volunteer and the study’s Data Collection Manager, says the State’s proposed 24-25 budget cuts to the California Nutrition Incentive Program renders the future of funding for Market Match unclear, but that all stakeholders are very much hoping for restoration of funding for this much-beloved program. Should the pilot study succeed in promoting the Market Match program to CalFresh recipients, next year the team would like to expand the text message intervention statewide to encourage ongoing participation in this healthy food incentive program.

“Our goal with this study is to test whether text messaging is an effective way of informing CalFresh recipients about nutrition assistance programs they are eligible for and therefore make access to these programs more equitable by reaching a wider audience,” said Ms. Sam-Chen. 

BFN designs programs to provide supplemental groceries to those who need them, yet many who come to us need additional support. To have the deepest impact, we regularly partner with mission-aligned organizations to connect our members to other life-changing services for which they may be eligible. 

“When BFN supports local research to expand access to fresh food, we are helping to move the needle of food insecurity in communities beyond Berkeley and Albany,” said BFN Executive Director Andrew Crispin.