Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Farmers' Market Incentives

About a year ago,Taylor and I ventured to the Oxford farmers' market to buy some tasty, fresh produce. But this wasn't your typical trip to the farmers' market--this was an experiment in using food stamps to buy local.

If you haven't been here from the beginning, Taylor and I qualified for food stamps for about 7 months while I was serving in the AmeriCorps*VISTA program (click here to read more about that experience.) So when we read a story in the Hamilton JournalNews about the Oxford farmers' market accepting food stamps, we decided to go check it out. We'd been using our EBT card to purchase fresh produce at the grocery store, but would have preferred to buy local straight from the grower. With this program, the folks at the farmers' market were able to convert our food stamps to paper vouchers for use at the farmers' market.

It was a great experience, and had we lived closer to Oxford we probably would have utilized this program more. The only problem was that locally grown produce, while usually fresher and of higher quality, tends to be more expensive than the stuff in the store. On the way home from the market, I remember commenting to Taylor that it would be awesome if we could make our food stamps go a little farther through some kind of incentive program that rewards food stamp users for buying healthy, locally grown food. People seem to have a lot to say about people in poverty making bad food choices. "They shouldn't buy chips, candy and pop; they should use that money to buy healthy food," they say. But, fruits and vegetables are more expensive than the shelf stable junk that many people in poverty fill their carts with. From an economical standpoint, if you're trying to feed your family, you're going to try to get as much food as possible for your dollar, and produce just isn't always the best choice. So it sure would be nice to have an economic incentive to go along with the nutritional benefits of fresh produce.

Well the folks at Findlay Market in Cincinnati seem to understand this concept, launching a new program called SNAP Plus. Through this program, participants can earn up to $120 in matched food stamp dollars for use at the farmers' market. To receive the credit, participants must attend nutrition classes offered by partners of Findlay Market.

Findlay Market has served as a model farmers' market in the state, as one of the first farmers' markets in Ohio to accept food stamps. I hope that this new program will catch on throughout the state (and country, for that matter), so that more people in poverty can have access to healthy, locally grown food at a lower cost.

As Karen Kahle, resource development director at Findlay Market, said, "It helps families on food stamps improve their access to healthy local foods. It helps the farmers in our farmer's market, increases the number of dollars in our farmers market and it also reduces the carbon footprint of the food that we eat."

Couldn't have said it better myself. Well done, Findlay Market!

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