Honolulu Civil Beat’s IDEAS Live: Food and DA BUX with Jesse Cook, Dana Shapiro & Kristin Frost Albrecht

COVID-19 exacerbated two systemic problems long plaguing Hawaiʻi: household economic insecurity, including for basic essentials like food; and the high cost of producing food locally – which reduces competitiveness of island-grown products alongside industrially produced (and often subsidized) imported food.  On February 17, 2021 co-op manager Dana Shapiro was featured on Honolulu Civil Beat’s IDEAS Live with Kristin Frost Albrecht of The Food Basket and Jesse Cooke of Ulupono Initiative to discuss one program working to help mitigate both issues – DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks. Go to the bottom of this page for a current list of other retailers and food hubs with our products accepting SNAP & DA BUX.

Now Accepting SNAP-EBT & DA BUX in Hilo

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History of the Program 

DA BUX doubles the value of SNAP-EBT dollars (“food stamps”) by partnering with food retailers to offer 50% discounts on SNAP purchases of local fruits and vegetables. DA BUX was first launched on Hawaiʻi Island in August 2017 by The Food Basket (TFB) after receiving a USDA Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant in collaboration with KTA Superstores, Blue Zones Hawaiʻi Island, and the Hawaiʻi Island Food Alliance. With the support of this grant and donors providing matching funds, DA BUX distributed over $201,000 in benefits to SNAP recipients from 2017-2019 

In 2019, TFB received a $985,652 USDA Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive grant in collaboration with the Hawai‘i Good Food Alliance, State Department of Agriculture, State Department of Health, Hawai‘i Public Health Institute, Hawai‘i Appleseed, and other service organizations, to expand the program and unify independently established double bucks programs across the state under one umbrella. This grant required a 100% match, which was provided by the State Legislature, philanthropic donors, and in-kind contributions from public service organizations. 

colorful salad

Growth and Impact of the Program

DA BUX has grown rapidly over the past four years and now has 81 retail sites across the state, including 32 grocery stores, farmers markets, CSAs, farm stands and food hubs. By the end of 2020 more than two-thirds (77%) of all SNAP-participating households had a double-bucks retailer within shopping distance of their homes – a 272% increase since 2018; a total of 41,939 SNAP households currently have geographic access to a DA BUX retailer in 2021. In 2020, $978,000 in incentives for local food were issued to SNAP-EBT users. By increasing the accessibility of locally-grown produce so families can bring more fresh fruits and vegetables into their homes, DA BUX has the potential to mitigate diet-related health problems across the state. The support and participation of local grocery stores has had a major impact on local food producers as well: nearly $2 million went back into the local food economy in 2020 alone

two ulu on ulu leaves

A Triple Win Solution 

Jesse Cooke from Ulupono Initiative, a supporter of DA BUX, discussed in the IDEAS podcast how this program invests federal dollars in local food production by helping families most in need while keeping money in the community AND incentivizing grocers to do business with local farmers. This triple win solution for families, farmers and the community improves access to affordable and healthy, locally-grown produce, expands farmers’ customer base and stimulates farm expansion, ultimately strengthening community food self-reliance and our disaster resilience. 

The co-op is proof of this community success. Pre-pandemic, HUC was 90% reliant on food service for its market and, in March 2020, abruptly lost virtually all of its commercial accounts. This shock highlighted the importance of market diversification and set HUC on a path of strategically building into its business model a greater diversity of market channels — including e-commerce, grocery retailers, and manufacturers. While this effort is still underway, the most successful grocery partnership to date has been with KTA Superstores, the only large retailer in the state to include frozen ‘ulu under the DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks label. Given the visceral economic hardship many Hawai‘i families have found themselves in over the past year, the impact of product inclusion in this program may be no surprise. For families who qualify for SNAP-EBT, ‘ulu - a nutritious, sustainable, culturally significant staple - is essentially half price at KTA. 

As the co-op continues to diversify its market streams, partnerships with community organizations coordinating food drives has provided a major source of economic stability over the past year. Overall, HUC has distributed over 60,000 pounds of ʻulu and other fresh and minimally processed local produce to families in need in partnership with community organizations throughout Hawaiʻi. Its partnership with TFB (which goes back to the co-op’s early days) has gone even deeper and now includes a direct donation program via HUC’s website where people can donate minimally processed local staples in five pound increments to families served by TFB. 

In April-May 2020, when Hawai’i saw food shortages due to pandemic-induced supply disruptions, HUC’s ʻulu even replaced imported rice in community feeding programs hosted by The Food Basket, and was distributed alongside recipes showcasing the versatility and ease of cooking with minimally processed, fresh-steamed ʻulu. After receiving ʻulu and locally sourced proteins, “you can just see everybody light up. Itʻs exciting to provide such quality food that’s locally produced, through a food bank,” Kristen said.

Join in the push to “get good local food into local bodies,” as IDEAS editor Julia Steele said, and contribute to these ongoing efforts by making a tax deductible donation of local starches –ʻulu, kalo, ‘uala, palaʻai (squash) – supporting our most vulnerable community members during these challenging times. 

[uc-featured-product handle="donate-5lb-okinawan-sweet-potato-to-the-hawaii-food-basket" description="Your donation is charitable and you will receive a receipt of your tax-deductible contribution via email within 48 hours after check out on our online store."]


SNAP-accepting Retailers with Hawaiʻi ʻUlu Co-op Products:

Hawaiʻi Island:

  • KTA Super Stores Puainako/Hilo* 
  • KTA Express - Kealakekua*
  • KTA Super Stores - Kailua-Kona*
  • KTA Super Stores - Downtown Hilo*
  • KTA Super Stores - Waikoloa Village*
  • KTA Super Stores - Waimea*
  • Island Naturals - Pahoa
  • Island Naturals - Hilo
  • Island Naturals - Kailua-Kona
  • The Locavore Store
  • Abundant Life Natural Foods


  • Down to Earth Kailua
  • Down to Earth Honolulu
  • Foodland Pupukea
  • Foodland Kailua
  • Foodland Farms Ala Moana
  • Farm Link Hawai'i*
  • Kokua Market Co-op 
  • Waianae Store Okimoto Corp* 
  • Kahumana Organic Farms & Cafe* 


  • Down to Earth Kahului


  • Pine Isle Market


  • Sustʻāinable Molokai Mobile Market* 


  • Nourish Kauaʻi*
*DA BUX authorized retailer

Watch the Podcast Recording

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For more information about the DA BUX Double Up Food Bucks program, please visit dabux.org.

Civil beat article by Ulupono's Jesse Cooke: https://www.civilbeat.org/2021/01/how-one-local-food-program-is-helping-hawaiis-farmers-and-families/ 


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