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Oran Hesterman


Double Up Food Bucks

205 E. Washington Street
Ste. B
Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104
Fair Foods Network’s president and CEO Oran Hesterman, Ph.D., is a passionate leader, author, and promoter of good nutrition for vulnerable children and families. Using strong public-private partnerships and carefully measuring program impact, Fair Food Network is a leader in improving access to healthy, fresh food for Michigan residents.
Michigan Nightlight: What does being a leader mean to you?
Fair Food Network President & CEO Dr. Oran Hesterman: Growing up in Berkeley, California, in the 1960s gave me a very interesting early perspective on the possibility for change and transformation that has guided me in my life’s journey. My early experience developing the first gardens and orchards at the University of California, Santa Cruz helped me understand at a young age that my purpose in life is to protect to the earth that nurtures us and to ensure that future generations have access to fresh, healthy, sustainably grown food.
I believe one of my roles is to encourage young people who are interested in working in the food movement to follow their
Double Up Food Bucks creates a solution for two separate challenges that, if linked, could solve each other: the lack of healthy, fresh food for low-income consumers and the decreasing income of small and mid-size family farms.
heart and their passion -- because the work of protecting the earth and growing healthy food is the absolutely essential ingredient for continuing life on our planet.
What is your dream for kids?
My dream is that every child has total access to the food they need to live a healthy, fully realized life and that no child is ever hungry or malnourished. I hope that we provide an environment for our children that supports them in maintaining a healthy weight and that diet-related illness is no longer a factor in children’s lives. I hope that we provide healthy, fresh food to give them the nourishment to support their highest educational achievement and their greatest physical fitness.
I hope this contributes to them all reaching their highest potential. This need not be just a dream. We have the capacity, if we have the will, to make this dream a reality.
What is one concrete thing that could be done to improve the environment for social sector work in Michigan?
I strongly suggest a movement toward more public and private partnerships to create opportunities for government, nonprofit organizations and the business sector to work together. One excellent example of this collaboration is Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks program; it has attracted financial support from over 40 foundations, business enterprises, and government agencies. It provides incentives to encourage healthier food choices for low-income shoppers who receive federal supplemental nutrition assistance.
Support and assistance for Double Up Food Bucks encompasses a wide spectrum of participants, including the Governor’s office, Michigan Department of Human Services, the Michigan Nutrition Network, the U.S. and Michigan Departments of Agriculture, the United Way, the W. K. Kellogg Foundation and other community foundations, Open Society Foundations, Whole Foods Market, and many entities that are more diverse.
Double Up Food Bucks creates a solution for two separate challenges that, if linked, could solve each other: the lack of healthy, fresh food for low-income consumers and the decreasing income of small and mid-size family farms. This kind of innovative program leverages federal resources to help alleviate hunger and malnutrition in our underserved communities while improving the income of farmers and the local economy. This can move us forward toward achieving our goals of bettering life for all Michigan citizens. Each sector supports and reinforces the work of the others, creating a synergistic
But, at the end of the day, it’s the emails from parents who send me their unsolicited thanks for the program because of its effect on their kids that make me happy to get up and come to work.
relationship that multiplies the effectiveness of the program.
Other examples of public and private partnership that are very successful are the Michigan Food Policy Council that I helped to initiate in 2005 and the Michigan Good Food Charter that developed organically from it. Again, these partnerships bring together diverse sectors that can really make a difference in how Michigan addresses the transformation of our food economy. The goals of the Good Food Charter are to ensure that Michigan institutions source 20 percent of their food products from Michigan growers and producers, which will lead Michigan farmers to supply 20 percent of all Michigan institutions and consumer food purchases.
How do you know you’re making progress?
One of the many benefits of working for 15 years at the Kellogg Foundation is the understanding I gained of the importance of evaluation. From the outset of the Double Up Food Bucks program, we built a strong evaluation component into the program’s framework, which allowed us to collect valuable qualitative and quantitative data from farmer vendors, market managers, and Fair Food Network staff.
Double Up Food Bucks began at five markets in Detroit in September 2009, expanded to 54 markets by 2011, and is now in over 75 markets and over 100 sites. It reaches thousands of Michigan residents and benefits hundreds of local farmers with over $1 million in sales from SNAP benefits and Double Up Food Bucks. Last year, almost a third of SNAP customers were using their benefits at farmers’ markets for the first time ever. This introduced almost 12,000 people to one of the great delights of summer in Michigan -- the sight and smells of freshly picked corn, berries, asparagus, tomatoes and other produce that local farmers haul to market for their customers’ shopping pleasure.
Evaluation results show a 190 percent increase in SNAP purchases at farmers’ markets since our program began, and 95 percent of farmers say they are making more money because of this. As of July 31, 2012, data shows that cumulative Double Up Food Bucks and SNAP use at Michigan farmers’ markets has exceeded the prior year’s results by 36 percent. In a recent nationwide poll conducted by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, we learned that 75 percent of people support a national program to double the value of SNAP benefits when used at farmers’ markets.
So, we do know that we are making progress. The success of the Double Up Food Bucks demonstration project in Michigan has created a positive climate for significant policy change at the federal level. The 2012 Farm Bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee includes $100 million to incentivize these types of programs which encourage healthier food choices for low-income families and strengthen the local economy. With the sheer amount of money being provided by the government in food assistance (more than $70 billion in 2012), it’s a huge opportunity to use that money wisely -- to get low-income families to eat healthier and support our local farmers.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that, since my early days in the 1990s at the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, the local and regional food movement has grown from a tiny (and marginal) group of activists to a respected, national movement that is entering the mainstream with a clear message about the need to repair our broken food system. I am proud of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for taking a leadership role in this transformation, and I’m proud of so many young people who have committed their lives to be leaders in this burgeoning food movement.
I am proud that I recently published my book, “Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All.” It provides a road map for the next generation of leaders, grounding them in where the movement started, how it has evolved and where it has the potential to go, while presenting a set of principles of a fair food system to guide them forward.
As president of Fair Food Network, I’m proud of the 40,000 people that had the opportunity to use our Double Up Food Bucks last year and the tens of thousands more that are beginning to use the program this market season. I’m proud to be introducing mothers, fathers, and children to Michigan’s farmers’ markets and their healthy, fresh, local food.
I’m proud that more than 40 funders and foundations are working with us and proud that the Farm Bill is moving through Congress. But, at the end of the day, it’s the emails from parents who send me their unsolicited thanks for the program because of its effect on their kids that make me happy to get up and come to work.
What perceptions, messages or historical influences create the most significant barriers to engaging Michigan citizens in helping vulnerable children?
Many people have the perception that the system is too large for them to have any significant impact.
This may be more valid when it comes to the healthcare, or energy, or educational systems, but it is not true with the food system. Families and children can become directly involved and engaged in shifting the food system in their homes, in their communities, and the institutions where they work, study, and worship through engagement in public policy discussions with elected representatives.
The way we learn to interact with food shapes all parts of our lives -- our health, our self-confidence and self-image, our cultural experiences, and our religious customs. In many elementary and secondary schools in Michigan and across the U.S., fast food is still the first choice and first option for children.
Changing the mindset and vision of the institutional leaders who purchase food for our children in the schools would be one of the first places I would turn to make important shifts in the health of our most vulnerable children. I’d also encourage parents and community members to become “fair food solutionaries” in the schools, bringing this understanding of the importance of healthy food for children into the school cafeterias and kitchens.
Public funds spent on school food runs into the billions of dollars. Shifting a percentage of these dollars to purchasing fresh, local produce would significantly impact the well-being of our children and, at the same time, support our local farmers and our food economy. The Farm to School Network is a national network that connects educational institutions with local farms.
In 2004, a Michigan farm-to-school survey showed that 73 percent of food service directors in Michigan schools were interested in purchasing food directly from local farmers and producers. Since then, 55 farm-to-school-programs have developed in Michigan -- and these numbers are growing exponentially. 
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  • Fair Food Network
    Fair Food Network is a non-profit organization that works in partnership with other organizations to design a food system that upholds the fundamental right to healthy, fresh and sustainably grown food, especially in historically excluded ...


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