Agriculture

Farmers market helps low-income patrons stretch budgets

Alicia Zahn keeps track of purchases made through the Market Match program at the Modesto Certified Farmers Market in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. The federal-state program doubles the buying power for market patrons receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. They receive the green and red tokens for use at market stalls, after swiping a card issued by SNAP. The beige tokens in back are from Market Match, which matches the original amount.
Alicia Zahn keeps track of purchases made through the Market Match program at the Modesto Certified Farmers Market in Modesto, Calif., on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016. The federal-state program doubles the buying power for market patrons receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps. They receive the green and red tokens for use at market stalls, after swiping a card issued by SNAP. The beige tokens in back are from Market Match, which matches the original amount. jholland@modbee.com

Some folks might not have much cash in their pockets to spend at the Modesto Certified Farmers Market.

Not to worry. It is among the markets that accept payments through the federal program that used to be called food stamps. And this year, it is taking part in Market Match, a federal-state effort that doubles the spending power of these benefits, up to $20 per household per market day.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to take advantage of the stuff that’s here,” said Rod Green of Ceres, who used Market Match at the 16th Street venue Thursday morning.

The Riverbank Certified Farmers Market is the only other participant in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. It and Modesto are among the California markets funded by a $3.7 million grant awarded last year to the Ecology Center in Berkeley.

The match helps farmers increase their sales and encourages shoppers to eat healthy foods, said Carle Brinkman, manager of the Market Access and Equity Program at the center.

“Almost 80 percent of people we surveyed said their families’ health had improved because of the Market Match program,” she said, “and we know that people are buying more fruits and vegetables.”

Brinkman talked about the program during a Thursday visit to the Modesto market, which teemed with its usual midsummer bounty of peaches, melons, tomatoes, squash and plenty more.

For a long time, the farmers market has not been for low-income people. We have to provide them with something they can actually afford.

Patti Rocha, strawberry vendor

Food stamps are now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which goes by CalFresh in California. Enrollees get a certain amount to spend each month via a card, similar to a debit card, used at supermarkets and other retailers.

At the Modesto farmers market, they swipe the card once and receive tokens worth $1 each to spend at the stalls. Market Match also is distributed this way. The vendors exchange the tokens for cash from the management at the end of the market day.

Marie Uber, the market manager, said it has seen increased business from CalFresh recipients and similar programs for seniors and young families.

Patti Rocha, a strawberry vendor from Watsonville, said she likes what Market Match is doing.

“For a long time, the farmers market has not been for low-income people,” she said. “We have to provide them with something they can actually afford.”

Market Match got a $5 million boost from the state this year, and the Ecology Center is seeking private donations to expand it even more.

Getting low-income people to farmers markets is a key goal for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.

“We’re very encouraged by the kind of progress that we’ve seen across the country,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday with The Modesto Bee. The department arranged it as part of National Farmers Market Week, which ends Saturday.

California now has about 450 markets that accept CalFresh, up from 95 in 2010. They include Turlock, Le Grand, Los Banos and the town of Tuolumne – none of them with Market Match.

John Holland: 209-578-2385

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