Savvy shoppers know they can find bargains at local farmers markets by purchasing what’s abundant and in season directly from producers. But through a new initiative called MarketMatch, people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – the government assistance program commonly called food stamps – can get much more from their purchases at the three weekly Crescent City Farmers Markets.
With funding from the Greater New Orleans Foundation, MarketMatch essentially doubles the money available to SNAP recipients when they shop at these markets, up to $25. For instance, when someone expends $10 of the funds stored on a SNAP payment card at the farmers market, the shopper will be issued $20 worth of tokens to buy food from market vendors. It is a limited-time program that expires once all matching funds are spent.
“This isn’t an endless giveaway; it’s an incentive and it rewards people for taking a risk and doing something that might be different for them, like coming to a different area to shop, shopping for food outdoors, buying different kinds of food than maybe they’re used to,” says Richard McCarthy, executive director of MarketUmbrella.org, the parent organization for CCFM.
MarketMatch is the latest effort by CCFM to introduce the farmers market experience to a broader range of residents. When the government converted food stamps to plastic payment cards in the 1990s, the CCFM pioneered an innovative system to allow farm vendors to accept the cards. Market staff simply swipe shoppers’ cards then issue wooden tokens that shoppers can redeem with vendors, while vendors later collect cash from the market in return. The same process allows any shopper to use credit and debit cards at the market. But technical issues weren’t the only hurdles CCFM faced to increase SNAP use at its markets.
“We had to overcome the idea that the farmers market is not for food stamp shoppers,” says McCarthy. “So our message, through outreach in the neighborhoods and through social service agencies, was ‘come join our community. You can stretch your dollar here and reconnect with the food you eat.’”
By introducing new shoppers to the market, the program also supports rural farmers around the region, which addresses another goal of CCFM.
“The market is always about building regional citizenship, and this is a way people can see that idea in action,” McCarthy says.
For details about CCFM, visit www.marketumbrella.org.