Gardiner farmers’ market to receive funds to boost SNAP spending
Paul Koenig 5/27/2015
The Kennebec Journal
The Gardiner Farmers’ Market, opening for the season Wednesday at the Gardiner Common, is one of more than 30 farmers markets in Maine that will receive grant money over the next three years to encourage people receiving food stamp benefits to buy more fruit and vegetables.
The additional money for people using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, known as food stamps, won’t be available until the June 17 market, but the farmers market already accepts Electronic Benefit Transfer, credit and debit cards, said Deb Files, the market’s manager.
The Gardiner market, held from 3 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays, has allowed people to use cards to purchase products for parts of the last few years, and it received a federal grant last year to buy new equipment, Files said. But the system has been sparingly used so far, she said.
Of the more than 150 farmers markets in the state, at least 41 accept EBT cards, said Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. From 2009 to 2013, the number of farmers markets that accepted EBT cards increased from two to 27, the Portland Press Herald reported last year in a story about a push to expand the process.
The Farmers Market at Mill Park in Augusta, open 3 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays during the summer, also accepts EBT cards and also is receiving grant money.
The expansion of farmers markets accepting EBT cards is important because increased spending locally benefits local economies, Hallett said. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is designed to help low-income people buy nutritious food, expanding buying power at farmers markets increases the amount of healthful food the recipients can buy, she said.
“In many communities, there aren’t a lot of sources of fresh, local foods,” Hallett said.
Typically, people swipe their EBT, credit or debit cards at a central booth at a market and receive tokens to buy products, or people pay for everything they’re buying at a central booth and the market reimburses each vendor, as is done in Gardiner.
Once the Gardiner Farmers’ Market receives funding from the grant in June, people spending at least $10 with their SNAP benefits will receive an extra $10 to spend on fruits and vegetables, Files said. The initial $10 can be spent on anything eligible for purchase with SNAP, but the additional $10 in tokens will have to be used for fruit and vegetables as part of the grant, she said.
The money is part of $31.5 million awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture earlier this year to support programs that will test incentive strategies for helping SNAP recipients buy fruit and vegetables. The funding the more than 30 Maine farmers markets will receive is through a $3.77 million Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Grant awarded to Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit organization that works to expand access to affordable, locally grown fruit and vegetables.
Overall, the state will receiving $337,903 in funding through the three-year grant, according to Ashley Gaudiano, a spokeswoman for the organization. Significant funding has also been committed to match the federal funding, she said.
The farmers markets in Maine that accept EBT cards will likely participate in the grant-funded program, according to the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.
In Gardiner, besides the addition of the SNAP incentives program, the market plans to have live music and children’s activities each week, Files said. The market also is starting a frequent buyers’ card program through which people will get $5 to spend at the market after spending $50.
The goal is to make the weekly market more of a community event, she said, “so it’s not just a place to come to buy healthy food. It’s a place to come with people who eat like you and think like you.”
Paul Koenig — 621-5663
Christine Leavitt, left, and Rylee Lefebvre buy vegetables on a rainy June 4, 2014, in front of the gazebo during the farmers market on the Gardiner Common. Gardiner’s market is one of more than 30 farmers markets in Maine that will receive grant money over the next three years to encourage people receiving food stamp benefits to buy more fruit and vegetables. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan
The Gardiner Farmers' Market has started a GoFundMe page to fund this year's market! Your donation will support market priorities, including: permanent signage on The Common; a stipend to have a musician at each weekly market; fees for this website; transaction fees for the convenience of using your debit or credit card at the market, the Kids Club; the Frequent Buyer Program; Special Events; our membership in the Maine Federation of Farmers' Markets, and more! Please donate today!
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