A city-funded pipeline linking fresh food and the District’s farmers markets to low-income residents will be administered by a new organization starting next summer.

D.C.'s health department announced this week that Freshfarm, a nonprofit that runs about 30 farmers markets across the region, will take the helm of the city’s Produce Plus program.

With an annual budget of over $1 million, the program seeks to connect local farmers with low-income residents who struggle to access healthy options — a struggle that has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

“Our markets have been a consistent participator and stalwart participant in the program,” said Nick Stavely, Freshfarm’s incentive program director. “We felt we were like a natural fit for it.”

The program, which launched in 2013, will start up again next June and run through September.

Each spring, interested residents can apply for the program. Enrollment is weighted toward residents in Wards 7 and 8, areas of Washington with well-documented problems accessing affordable and healthful fresh food. Once accepted, program participants are free to choose their own items at participating farmers markets throughout the summer.

Over the past eight years, Produce Plus has steadily expanded in scope and size. Last summer, 19 vendors participated in the program, and 4,000 residents were enrolled.

Freshfarm hopes to introduce new procedures to ease the experience for both farmers and shoppers. “The biggest capacity change that we have coming down the pipeline is changing the method by which we deliver the incentive to folks,” Stavely said.

In past years, Produce Plus participants received the benefits through checks that were then spent at the markets, Stavely said. “That old-school analog approach brought a lot of challenges,” he said. “There were a lot of lines and a lot of waiting, as well as a lot of administrative demands on farmers.”

Moving forward, participants will get a card that will be updated each month with program funds and can be swiped at the markets for each purchase.

Heading into next year, Stavely said the program will serve 4,500 people. “We will be able to add capacity in future years,” he said.

The organization is also looking at expanding Produce Plus to include home delivery as well as utilizing other federal food access programs.

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