GrowNYC OTC Collaboration Efforts to Bring More Healthy Food Choices to Those in Need

by Sofia Pilipenko
Part of the Food Policy Community Spotlight Series  

Name: GrowNYC Over the Counter (OTC) Network  

What they do: GrowNYC is an environmental organization created in 1970 that has been at the forefront of efforts to provide New Yorkers equitable access to fresh local food, and in return, support and safeguard our regional farmers’ future. The GrowNYC Over the Counter (OTC) network, launched in 2021, aims to increase access to healthy and nutritious foods for individuals and families enrolled in select health insurance plans. By partnering with the health insurance companies Healthfirst and Humana, individuals enrolled in select health insurance plans can purchase a variety of fresh and locally sourced fruits, vegetables, eggs, meat, cheeses, milk, and other healthy staple foods  using their health insurance over-the-counter (OTC) benefits at more than 60 GrowNYC Greenmarkets, Farmstands, and Fresh Food Box sites.

How they do it: In 2005, GrowNYC launched an important initiative to accept SNAP/EBT at farmers’ markets, allowing individuals who rely on these benefits to purchase fresh produce and other healthy foods directly from local farmers. The fact that in 2022, $4 million in nutrition benefits have been redeemed at GrowNYC’s food-access sites is a testament to how effectively the program is connecting under-resourced communities to nutritionally dense foods. 

The OTC network expands nutrition incentive benefits to a new population. Enrollees in select Healthfirst and Humana plans receive OTC dollars preloaded onto their Healthfirst OTC Plus and Humana Healthy Options cards. This money can be used at any GrowNYC food access location to purchase locally sourced food items. Enrollees need only bring their OTC card to the information tent at these sites to exchange their OTC benefits for Greenmarket Bucks that can then be used to buy food. GrowNYC is exploring ways that benefits can be rolled out on a larger scale, which could potentially have implications for how other insurance carriers might approach coverage for healthy foods in the future. 

GrowNYC views OTC benefits at farmers markets as another national model toward connecting communities coping with food insecurity to nutritionally dense food while providing vital business to regional farmers in the Northeast. 

Latest project/campaign: In 2021, Healthfirst OTC Plus became the first insurance plan to partner with GrowNYC to provide its beneficiaries with an opportunity to obtain locally sourced food at its food access sites. Humana became the most recent provider to join the network. Here is the list of all insurance plans currently participating in the GrowNYC OTC program. Individuals enrolled in these plans can use OTC benefits at all GrowNYC Greenmarkets, Farmstands, and Fresh Food Box sites listed here

Major Funding: Humana and Healthfirst

Profit/nonprofit: Humana and Healthfirst are for profit; GrowNYC is nonprofit

Annual Budget: $175,000

An interesting fact about how it is working to positively affect the food system: It is encouraging to see that GrowNYC’s initiatives are making a real difference in the lives of individuals and communities in New York City. Its approach to promoting healthy food choices and improving food access serves as a valuable model for other organizations and communities that want to address food insecurity and prevent chronic diseases. The GrowNYC OTC network can make fresh local food more accessible to eligible New Yorkers — in 2022, ~$300,000 was redeemed through the program. Equally remarkable are GrowNYC’s efforts to support local farmers who grow and deliver high-quality foods to the residents of NYC. OTC benefits at farmers’ markets is a win-win solution that supports both the health of individuals and the livelihoods of regional farmers. It is a model that can and should be replicated in other communities across the country. 

Location: New York City
Core Programs: GrowNYC’s Food Access & Agriculture core programs include our 65+ food access sites including Greenmarkets, Farmstands, and Fresh Food Box sites.
Areas served: All 5 boroughs
Year Started: 1970, OTC partnerships began in 2021
Director: Angela Davis, Direct of Food Access & Agriculture and Tutu Badaru, Assistant Director of Food Access Initiatives and Partnerships
Contact Information:

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