“Being the independent grocery in a small town means you are at the heart of the community,” said Jennifer Bosma, the VP of Harvest Market in Fort Bragg, Calif. It’s a responsibility she takes seriously.
Fort Bragg is a small and isolated rural community about 150 miles north of San Francisco, accessible by a single twisty highway. Stores in town sell care packages to prevent car sickness and t-shirts that read “I survived the road to Fort Bragg.” The nearest Walmart is an hour and a half away. There are fancy beachside houses, but also a lot of poverty, and the town’s 7,000 residents have learned to depend on each other.
Harvest Market does its part. It works with a local charity called the Children’s Fund to get extra food to underserved kids. During the pandemic, the store provided diapers and other supplies at cost. Customers have the option to donate their 10-cent reusable bag discount to one of four charities in town. Starting pay for baggers is $17.25 an hour, more than a dollar above the California minimum wage.
Employees receive benefits and participate in profit sharing. Quite a few have worked at the store for decades; for a 20th anniversary gift, Bosma takes them to Hawaii, and for the 30th anniversary, on a cruise to the Greek islands.
“We try to be there for our community as much as possible,” Bosma said.
So, when she learned about California’s new Double Up Food Bucks program at a National Grocers Association conference in the fall of 2020, she decided she wanted to participate. The program, run by the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association (SPUR), promised SNAP customers a $1 rebate on their EBT cards for every dollar they spent on California produce, up to $60 a month. They could spend that extra money at grocery stores or at farmers markets, which would help out local farmers.
“It’s not a lot,” Bosma admitted, “but it’s something. It helps people eat a little healthier by getting fresh fruits and vegetables.”
Bosma began talking with SPUR. At the time, Fort Bragg was too far away, but SPUR wanted to expand the program. Over the next two-and-a-half years, through many delays, Bosma worked to bring POS vendors on board. She figured out a system to identify California-grown fruits and vegetables, though the more she thought about it, the more pointless the distinction seemed: Not all produce is available all the time, and under the original guidelines, the program would never cover staples like bananas that aren’t grown in-state.
The organizers saw her point and when the program, now called the California Fruit and Veggie EBT Pilot Program, finally launched in spring 2023, it offered rebates on all produce, regardless of where it was grown. Harvest Market was the first store in the state to join, and it remains the only store in Mendocino County to offer it.
“I’m hoping they will expand to all grocery stores,” said Bosma. “It would help a lot of people in our community.”
This feature is part of our 2024 “SN Independent Superstars” list: see more superstars here.