Earlier this month, a very special guest came to our farmers’ market: United States Department of Agriculture’s Undersecretary of Agriculture Kevin Concannon visited for National Nutrition Month! Our staff met with Undersecretary Concannon to discuss CalFresh (California’s food stamps, referred to as SNAP nationally) access at farmers’ markets and incentives like Market Match. Our Market Match program makes healthier food choices affordable by offering a dollar match when CalFresh is used at farmers’ markets, and other farm-direct locations in California.
Undersecretary Concannon praised the program for being a path not just for healthier eating, but also supporting local farmers and communities. He said, “In California, more than 500 markets now have the opportunity to process CalFresh, the food stamp benefits. We love to see that because it’s part of a growing movement. We’ve seen data here from the Ecology Center that shows not only the number of markets, but the millions of dollars that now are going back into the local economy, federal dollars that support healthier eating.”
Watch this short video from Undersecretary Concannon’s visit for his thoughts on nutrition, farmers’ markets, healthy food access, and the work we’re doing:
Undersecretary Concannon met farmers during his day at the market too, including Efren Avalos, a beloved organic farmer who has been part of our markets for nearly two decades. Market Match helps farmers like Efren by increasing their sales; when low-income shoppers who previously had not visited the farmers’ market have an incentive to shop, more dollars go into local farmers’ pockets.
The Ecology Center is emerging as a national leader to make healthy foods at farmers’ markets more affordable for under-resourced communities. With the help of dozens of farmers’ market operators up and down the state, we have scaled up Market Match across California’s diverse regions and communities. Behind the scenes, Andy Naja-Reise, with USDA’s western office, shared that Hawaii is modeling its nutrition incentive programs after what the Ecology Center developed for California’s Market Match. We were delighted to hear this!
Undersecretary Concannon asked us what barriers we see to expanding the number of farmers’ markets that offer SNAP. We shared with him the following challenges and solutions:
- Food & Nutrition Services (FNS) Application: We support farmers’ market operators when they apply to be a new SNAP retailer. The application was created for grocery stores, making the path confusing for farmers’ markets to become part of the system. Our recommendation: structuring the application with farmers’ markets in mind would make it easier for more markets to offer SNAP.
- FNS number and Point-of-Sale(POS) device: There is a technical issue that requires each market to have a separate FNS number and POS device per market, which is hard for organizations that run multiple farmers’ markets.
- California Department of Social Services (CDSS) benefits: California’s pathway for administering SNAP is linked to a contract with Xerox. We are happy to share that this contract is one reason our state has so many markets enrolled: farmers’ market not only receive the equipment free, but all of the associated fees are also paid for by the state. Similar administrative contracts may help more farmers’ markets in other states to offer SNAP.
Market Match and similar programs nationally are proven to make healthy eating more affordable for everyone and to support small farmers and local economies. Everyone wins if we can expand these programs and make them easy to use for operators, customers, farmers, and administrators. We appreciate Undersecretary Concannon’s enthusiasm for our work, and his commitment to spreading good ideas nationally.
Thank you Undersecretary Concannon, and to the USDA staff who helped arrange this visit!