Vouchers 4 Veggies: Produce Prescription Program Spotlight

by Marissa Sheldon, MPH

Vouchers 4 Veggies: Produce Prescription Program Spotlight

What they do: The Vouchers 4 Veggies produce prescription program partners with health care, local government, philanthropy, and community-based organizations to provide fruit and vegetable vouchers or restricted-spend produce debit cards to low-income, food-insecure individuals, those who have or are at risk for a diet-related chronic illness, seniors, pregnant people, and/or families with children. For six months, participants receive $20 to $110 (depending on household size) worth of vouchers or funds loaded on their produce card. Participants decide what produce to purchase and where and when to redeem their vouchers/produce card from the partner vendor network of grocery stores, corner stores, and farmers’ markets in the neighborhoods where participants live. 

The evidence-based program began in 2015 in San Francisco with the name EatSF. Vouchers 4 Veggies (V4V) has since scaled to multiple urban and rural geographies across the nation, showing consistent positive outcomes including significant improvements in food security and healthy food intake in each replication. The program also receives more than 90 satisfaction ratings from participants and partner organizations. The program’s current goal is to integrate into healthcare so that its community-responsive produce prescription solution can be contracted through healthcare as a covered benefit in healthcare plans.

One example of V4V’s innovation is its unique partnership with San Francisco Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Pregnant people who enroll in SFWIC are also automatically enrolled to receive nine months of V4V’s fruit and vegetable benefits. V4V is working with local government and other funders in hopes of extending these benefits to a 12-month period to impact postpartum health. 

Additional tools, including healthy eating tips, recipes, and San Francisco food resources, are available through an online participant portal for those who have internet access. Distributing partners may also choose to provide their own printed materials or nutrition education tips to their own participants. 

How they do it: V4V reaches participants through partner organizations that are staffed by community members who participants know and trust. Each partner organization determines its own eligibility criteria and distribution schedule. Vouchers and produce cards can be redeemed at a large selection of participating retailers and can be mailed or distributed in person. There are three different types of vouchers/cards that participants can receive:

  • Purple vouchers are worth $10 each and can be used to purchase fresh or frozen fruits and vegetables or pre-packaged fruits and vegetables (e.g. salad mix) without added salt, sugar, dressings, or other ingredients. 
  • Orange vouchers are worth $10 each and can be used to purchase any food item, including hot foods, except alcohol or sugary drinks.
  • V4V produce “debit” card that is loaded with $40 – $110, depending on household size, each month.

All vouchers/produce cards must be used before their expiration dates and cannot be exchanged for cash.

Outcomes are measured with pre- and post-participation surveys that use validated screening tools to evaluate food security levels and fruit and vegetable intake. 

Mission: To create produce prescription solutions that are effective, efficient, culturally relevant, and meet the needs of all community members, including those with limited food access.

Major Funding: City and County of San FranciscoUSDA GusNIP grant (subgrantee), San Francisco Sugary Drinks Distributor Tax, philanthropy

Profit/nonprofit: Nonprofit

Annual Budget: $4.5 million for fiscal year 2021-2022

Interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect health: In fiscal year 2021-2022, 4,300 households purchased $1 million worth of fruits and vegetables. One year after completing the program, more than 50 percent of participants reported continuing to eat more fruits and vegetables every day, even without the support of the program. 

FACT SHEET:

Locations: V4V works with 180 community-based organizations throughout San Francisco, in addition to its national partners. 

Core Programs: Produce prescription program

Number of staff: 10

Number of volunteers: 0

Areas served: V4V operates or has been replicated in multiple states (including Colorado, Virginia, Louisiana, and California) and urban, rural, and semi-rural regions. V4V is located in San Francisco, CA, and operates in multiple counties in California including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Stockton, and Modesto.

Year Started: 2015

Executive Director: Cissie BoniniMPA

Contact Information: To replicate this program or for technical assistance, email eatsf@ucsf.edu. EatSF does not directly enroll participants in the V4V program. 

Learn More:

Photo Credit: Constanza Hevia

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