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New program lets SNAP users double up on produce from LI farms

Farmer Carlos Morente, of Brentwood, brings peppers from

Farmer Carlos Morente, of Brentwood, brings peppers from the field to the farm stand at Thera Farms, a family-run organic farm, in Brentwood on Saturday. Credit: Debbie Egan-Chin

Suffolk nonprofits, elected officials and farmers at Thera Farms in Brentwood on Saturday hoped to spread the word about a food access program aimed at helping residents in vulnerable areas get access to farm fresh fruits and vegetables.

Partnering with the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Suffolk County, Thera Farms on Brentwood Road announced their participation in the "Double Up Food Bucks" initiative, which doubles the value of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchases of the farm's fruits and vegetables.

Vanessa Lockel, executive director of Suffolk's Cornell Cooperative Extension, said having a program available in vulnerable communities such as Brentwood was key not only to helping local farms such as Thera Farms, but in helping people buy affordable farm fresh produce.

"Not everybody in Brentwood has five dollars for a beautiful arugula lettuce blend," Lockel said. "If your SNAP benefits in a supermarket are limited to buying boxed or processed food … there are healthier options in getting more vegetables and fruits in your system. This program is a win-win."

Teddy Bolkas, owner of Thera Farms — which opened in 2016 on land leased from the Brentwood-based Sisters of St. Joseph — said people had told him they were surprised to find a farm in Brentwood. Bolkas said he hoped the initiative would help the farm provide more produce to people who'd have to travel farther east to get it otherwise.

"Our goal is to feed people, give them nutrition and give them healthy bodies," Bolkas said. "Our goal was never to grow food in Brentwood and ship it to Manhattan. We grow it here with local people and we feed the local neighborhood."

Barbara Love, 30, of Babylon, was visiting the farm for the first time Saturday. Love said it was important for her to shop healthier for her four children, and the program may encourage her to come back more often.

"My kids like eating healthy. They’re little still, so they love eating vegetables and fruit," said Love, who purchased cabbage, peppers, corn and cilantro, among other produce.

Suffolk County Legis. Sam Gonzalez (D-Brentwood) urged residents to take advantage of the initiative to feed their families healthy farm produce.

"To be able to use SNAP and come here and get these vegetables you see behind me," Gonzalez said, "is going to be so important to the community of Brentwood, Central Islip, north Bay Shore and all our neighbors."

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