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State's farmers markets see rise in SNAP redemptions
Jan 14, 2013 @ 12:33 PM by FFN with  comments
Source:Battle Creek Enquirer
Outreach, grants fuel growth and increased access
Michigan farmers markets experienced a 42 percent increase in the number of purchases made using a Bridge Card last year, according to the Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service.
“It’s a win-win-win situation,” said Amanda Shreve, manager of programs and partnerships at the Michigan Farmers Market Association. “It helps farmers by increasing their sales, it helps the customer by gaining access to greater fruits and vegetables and it helps the market itself grow its customer base.”
Last year, Michigan’s 221 participating farmers markets collected more than $1.5 million in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, according to a press release from the FNS. Slightly more than $1 million were redeemed at 151 sites during the previous year.
Battle Creek's farmers market was very busy in this July file photo. The Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service reported an increase of purchases being made with SNAP benefits in 2012. / The Enquirer
Every $1 in new SNAP benefits spent can result in up to $1.80 in total economic activity, according to the press release. That means in Michigan, close to $3 million in economic activity may have been generated in 2012.
While Minnesota, Indiana and Illinois all had higher increases from 2011, Michigan still had the most farmers markets who accepted SNAP benefits in the Midwest. The next closest was Ohio, which had 98 participating sites in the 2012 fiscal year.
“When we started our work as the Michigan Farmers Market Association in 2006, there were only three markets accepting Bridge Cards,” Shreve said. “This year, there were as many as 103.”
The four participating farmers markets in Calhoun County redeemed nearly $14,000 in SNAP benefits during the 2011 fiscal year, according to the FNS. The 2012 total was not released because the FNS is not permitted to release SNAP redemption data when an area has three or fewer retailers who accept Bridge Cards, according to a response to a Freedom of Information Act request by the Enquirer.
“We know that in the last few years, the total amount SNAP benefits has leveled off,” said Rachel Chadderdon Bair, program director of the Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) program. “The fact that more SNAP benefits are being spent at farmers markets indicate there’s more interest in local food and healthy food.”
The increase is due to efforts to raise awareness among recipients that SNAP benefits are accepted at farmers markets. The USDA has given Farmers Market Promotion grants for outreach and assistance in equipping markets with the proper resources to participate. Many markets have also implemented incentive projects. Although outreach efforts present challenges -- markets typically lack a large advertising budget -- all are focused on one goal: provide access to healthy food for those who simply aren’t getting it.
Chadderon Bair said while many factors have contributed to the rise of SNAP redemptions at markets, incentives have helped.
“SNAP benefits used at farmers markets were increasing before Double Up Food Bucks started,” said Chadderon Bair, “but it has increased even more, nearly exponentially since Double Up Food Bucks started as a pilot program in 2009.”
The DUFB program allows customers to use their Bridge Cards at the markets and receive an equal amount of up to $20 in tokens, which can then be used to buy even more produce. Much of the incentive program is funded by local community foundations and state government agencies. It is spearheaded by the Ann Arbor-based Fair Food Network, which advocates for increased access to healthy food.
Markets in Battle Creek, Springfield, Bellevue and at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center all participate in DUFB. Applications for new sites are due later this month, Chadderon Bair said, and an increase of at least 10 more markets are expected to join.
J.R. Reynolds, coordinator at Good Food Battle Creek, said a focus group in early 2012 revealed most local residents were unaware of the program. Chadderdon Bair said to overcome this, it runs an extensive communications and marketing campaign, much of it done in partnership with the Michigan Nutrition Network.
Raising awareness is one of the many obstacles markets face when trying to accept SNAP benefits. There is also difficulty in obtaining the necessary technology and equipment, and some market managers are not compensated for the additional time it takes to manage the program. Also, many Bridge Card users lack transportation to travel to the markets.
There are more than 8,000 people in Calhoun County who are considered by the USDA to have low access to fresh food.
Sue Ott, owner of the Jolly Green Junction in Albion, said she has accepted the Bridge Card for nearly four years and has put in an application to participate in the DUFB program. The market, which also includes a plant nursery, allows customers to also buy seeds with SNAP benefits to grow their own garden.
“I think it’s great,” Ott said. “Because people who can’t afford to plant their own garden, they can do it now with their Bridge Cards.”
Ott said her market also tries to provide recipes to its customers. Accepting SNAP benefits creates teaching opportunities, she said.
It also helps with what many have pointed out to be a setback to promoting healthy eating.
“One of the challenges of beyond simply providing the options for folks to use their SNAP benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables is to help, especially the younger generation, understand and learn how to prepare fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Reynolds, who is also a columnist for the Enquirer.
Eighty-seven percent of SNAP recipients lived below federal poverty guidelines, according to a June 2010 report by the Community Food Security and the Farmers Market Coalitions. Nearly half of SNAP recipients are children.
Ott said there’s little controversy to the use of SNAP benefits at her facility, where she sells produce and meat. Often, SNAP has been criticized by some who say the benefits are abused and allow for the purchase of unhealthy food.
“Over time, we’d love to see a shift in food assistance policies so that these SNAP benefits can be more focused on fruits and vegetables,” Reynolds said.
Shreve said the state’s farmers market association has two goals: to have a farmers market accept Bridge Cards in at least 50 percent of Michigan counties by 2015, and to have half of all of the state’s farmers market accept SNAP benefits by 2013.
But more work is needed to change society’s “fast food mentality,” Reynolds said. It will need a social marketing campaign, he said, with comprehensive efforts to educate and promote.
“This is one step in the right direction,” he said, “but it’s going to take a lot more soldiers on the ground to help spread the word out into the communities.”
Markets in Albion, Bellevue, Battle Creek and Springfield accept SNAP benefits. More information can be found online at mifma.org.
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