You may have seen recent press about Nebraska Extension and The Big 3. This is our new strategic direction which can be boiled down to three ambitions, which we are calling, “The Big 3.” The Big 3 are: Strengthen Nebraska Agriculture and Food Systems, Inspire Nebraskans & Their Communities, and Enhance the Health & Wellbeing of All Nebraskans. You can watch videos explaining our strategic direction here.
In my Rural Prosperity Nebraska work, we mainly work in the Inspire Nebraskans & Their Communities realm, but community work touches all The Big 3. If you would have told me when I started this job that some of my most impactful work would be in Strengthening Nebraska Agriculture and Food Systems, I would have argued with you. Included in that area is access to safe and healthy food. The work I have done with rural grocery stores falls squarely in this area. Having a local grocery store that sells fresh fruits and vegetables is a major step towards having access to safe and healthy foods. Some of my RPN colleagues work with schools to help them get not only safe and healthy foods…but local foods as well.
My grocery store work started in 2020 when I was part of a team that received a Heartland Challenge Grant from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation to study rural grocery stores and how they transitioned into community owned stores. We did some survey work and some limited panel discussions. Some of our findings lead to the creation of the Business Transition Model publication. As we worked with grocery stores, we started talking with them about profitability and areas that were difficult to manage. One of those areas was fresh produce.
Fresh produce is difficult for stores to manage because customer demand is hard to project on a day-to-day basis and fresh produce has a short shelf life. Grocery store owners wanted more ways to sell fresh produce. One solution was to use fresh produce in their deli prepared foods. Another was to work with Nebraska Extension’s Seasonal And Simple phone app which gives recipes for seasonal produce. Another way to increase sales is the program called Double Up Food Bucks.
Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) is a program that is growing in our area. DUFB is a program that helps people on SNAP to purchase more fresh fruits and vegetables. Recently, stores in Webster, Jefferson, and Nuckolls counties have begun DUFB programs and there are several other grocery stores in other communities looking at the program. In addition to helping people buy more fresh fruits and vegetables, Nebraska Extension will also schedule food demonstrations and provide healthy eating information in these stores.
The Double Up Food Bucks leader, Extension Educator Vanessa Wielenga has secured funding through several grants to pay for this program. In the future we hope to secure local funding to support this program. The program allows anyone who is on SNAP benefits to participate. They simply purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at the grocery store, and they are given coupons that allow them to come back to the store and buy more fresh fruits and vegetables. It is generally a dollar-for-dollar match. Having more fresh fruits and vegetables in a home encourages people to eat them more. Grocery stores that have this program will sell more fresh fruits and vegetables which helps them manage their fresh produce more easily.
If your community could benefit from any of the Rural Prosperity Nebraska ideas that I’ve discussed in this column, please reach out to me. I’d love to speak to your community about these topics. You can reach me at email@example.com or at the Thayer County office at 402-768-7212.
Jason Tuller is an Extension Educator for the University of Nebraska – Lincoln. He works in the Rural Prosperity Nebraska program and covers ten-county area including Kearney, Adams, Clay, Fillmore, Saline, Franklin, Webster, Nuckolls, Thayer, and Jefferson Counties.