woman picking produce at a farmers market

Case Western Reserve University partners with Produce Perks Midwest, expanding nutrition-incentive technology at farmers’ markets

FM Tracks app increases access to healthy foods for people receiving government assistance

Case Western Reserve University and Produce Perks Midwest, a Cincinnati-based non-profit, have partnered to increase the availability of FM Tracks, an app and website used at farmers’ markets to increase access to fruits and vegetables for people receiving food assistance benefits.

Photo of Darcy Freedman
Darcy Freedman

FM Tracks, developed as a social enterprise project by Darcy Freedman, director of the Mary Ann Swetland Center for Environmental Health at Case Western Reserve, is used at more than 1,000 farmers’ markets nationally—in 30 states and the District of Columbia.

The technology makes it easier for local markets to offer nutrition incentive programs that make fresh and healthy foods more affordable. These programs extend the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for consumers to buy more fruits and vegetables with less money. Nutrition incentive programs help reduce food insecurity while promoting healthy diet.

“We created this technology six years ago to fill a critical gap in the field, and it’s exciting to see its features continue to be of value to communities as they work to address food access barriers,” Freedman said. “Produce Perks Midwest is a trusted and skilled partner to expand the reach of this technology across the U.S.”

Produce Perks Midwest works to increase affordable access to nutritious food by helping families buy fresh, healthy produce from local farmers. The Produce Perks program, operating throughout Ohio, doubles the purchasing power for low-income shoppers by providing a $1-for-$1 match for families and individuals receiving SNAP benefits.  

FM Tracks was launched in 2015 to provide efficiency and quality control for farmers’ markets operating federal nutrition incentive programs. The Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture helps reduce the cost of buying fruits and vegetables for people receiving SNAP.

The development of the FM Tracks app was supported through seed funding from the Ohio Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a direct investment by the Case Western Reserve Technology Transfer Office.

The innovative technology is used by farmers’ market staff to save time, improve market operations and show impact of their nutrition-incentive programming. It helps markets that have a goal of increasing the number of low-income shoppers visiting their location.

Produce Perks Midwest was an early adopter of FM Tracks offering critical guidance to modernize the technology with the changing landscape of incentive program delivery. Today, the non-profit supports more than 100 FM Tracks users in Ohio. Produce Perks Midwest brings six years of experience serving as one of five regional hubs leading FM Tracks dissemination.

“FM Tracks is one of the best products available, building capacity and convenience for Ohio’s markets to better serve their communities and offer programming that doubles the value of food assistance benefits so low-income consumers can more easily access fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables,” said Tevis Foreman, executive director of Produce Perks Midwest. “We are excited to expand our partnership with Case Western Reserve University and leverage our experiences with this technology to support partners across the country.”

Freedman said Produce Perks Midwest brings exceptional real-world experience to help farmers’ markets in rural and urban settings use FM Tracks data to guide decisions on program expansion. National use of the tool reveals trends that tell a story about the win-win impact of nutrition incentive programming for community members and local farmers.

For more information, contact Bill Lubinger at william.lubinger@case.edu.

This article was originally published Jan. 18, 2022.