According to the national Farmers’ Market Coalition, $16.6 million in SNAP benefits were redeemed at farmers’ markets nationally in 2013. That’s a sharp increase from $4.2 million just five years ago. The number of farmers’ markets is also on the rise. If these trends continue, it could mean good changes for what’s on the plates of low-income families. A recent study has shown SNAP recipients who get vouchers to shop at farmers’ markets are more likely to eat more fruits and vegetables, foods that are typically hard to access and afford in low-income communities.
Voucher programs like the ones used in the study are also on the rise. They received a boost in the 2014 Farm Bill, which includes a new Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program. This provides funding for these incentives, which go specifically for buying fresh fruits and vegetables. Mirroring what’s happening nationally, the Ecology Center’s healthy food incentive program, Market Match, has been expanding in California.
There’s a lot at stake when talking about this shift. SNAP benefit redemption totaled $74 billion in 2013, which means there’s a lot of room for the amount spent at farmers’ market to grow. The bulk of that $74 billion goes toward readily accessible packaged and processed foods, leading to a cycle of unhealthy options for food-assistance recipients, and profit to the biggest food companies. The alternative? For every dollar of assistance or matching incentives spent at farmers’ markets, small and medium farmers’ income is bolstered, supporting local economies and returning investment in those communities.
The Ecology Center is participating in this work in many ways. Over ten years ago, we pioneered mobile devices that allowed SNAP recipients to shop at farmers’ markets, and we’ve shared and spread that work to farmers’ markets around California. We’ve also created FMFinder.org, which allows users to search for farmers’ markets near them that can process different benefits like CalFresh, WIC, or offer matching incentives like Market Match. Beyond Berkeley, and beyond California, there’s many others working to make this happen nationally. We’re excited to be a part of it, and see how this work has the potential to change what affordable, accessible food is for low-income communities.