MAKING FARMERS’ MARKETS AFFORDABLE

Have you ever found yourself singing the praises of your farmers’ market only to have your conversation mate say they can’t afford such expensive food?

There are so many answers to that statement.

In most cases, it’s merely a matter of priorities and grasping the real cost of agribusiness food-like substances.

But there are people who can not afford to share the bounty of farmers’ markets.  That’s a tougher question, but in some cases there are starting to be answers. Our Dane County Farmers’ Market holds regular donation days where shoppers can buy and donate extra produce that will be distributed to those who need access to fresh food.

I just learned about four-year-old organization called Wholesome Wave.  Their goal is to get good food to economically-deprived communities, especially those defined as urban food deserts.  We all know what this is.  It’s that part of town we don’t tend to go into with the boarded up shop windows and no green spaces.  Most of us have never tried to shop there, but if we did, we’d quickly learn that there is no way to get fresh, healthy food.

Wholesome Wave works in several ways.  They are working to create connections between the food deserts by combining private funds with government funding to benefit underserved communities and build the market for local farmers.

Their core program is Double Value Coupon Program, which doubles the value of Federal Food Stamps, called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) when these coupons are used at participating farmers markets.

I just read in my brother’s AARP bulletin that 68 percent of those who are elegible for SNAP don’t sign up.  If you think you or someone you know might qualify, here are some helpful web resources that Wholesome Wave has collected for you.

  • SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
    Visit the USDA’s SNAP Pre-screening Eligibility Tool here.
  • WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)
    Visit your state’s WIC State Agency. For a list visit here.
  • WIC FMNP (Women, Infants, and Children Farmers Market State Agencies)
    Visit your state’s WIC Farmers Market State Agency. For a list visit here.
  • Senior FMNP (Senior Farmers Market State Agencies)
    Visit your state’s SFMNP State Agency.  For a list visit here.

    States where Wholesome Wave is at work.

There are a lot of states that are still blank on the Wholesome Wave map.  If this seems like something you want to get involved with bringing to your area, keep in mind that Wholesome Wave is only able to provide funding for communities specifically targeted by donors.

If you are interested in launching a Double Value Coupon Program in your community and your community has not been identified by Wholesome Wave for a program, they recommend the following steps:

  1. Contact the manager of your local farmers market, or a local nonprofit operating organization such as Experimental Station, Human Services Coalition, or International Rescue Committee, and determine if there is interest to operate such a program.
  2. Contact your local Community Foundation or other funding foundation or group and determine if there is interest to fund such a program. If there is interest, contact the Wholesome Wave office.
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14 replies

  1. I was discussing the issue of affordability with a lady who helped to set up a farmers’ market here in Latvia. I pointed out that if the farmers charged more than they got for selling the produce wholesale it could still be cheaper than in the shops. I don’t really understand why farmers charge a lot more than in the shops sometimes, although I do understand when they are pricing niche products which are difficult to price. I pointed out that if the farmers got more than they did wholesale but the customers paid less than in the supermarkets then that is a win win situation and help to build up a following for at least the basics by all sectors of society.

    I guess in America there is the added hindrance of distance and it could be difficult for those in the poorer sections of society to get to farmers’ markets and so the Green Wave approach is admirable. One church in Boise, Idaho has dug up their green lawns and planted a vegetable garden where they supply fresh food to the local food bank and I wish more would do that. http://www.vineyardboise.org/garden/

    • Hi Joanna,
      Yes, pricing of food gets complex. Especially since so many agribusiness products are sailing along on subsidies.
      Many churches in Madison have started gardens on their grounds, and church members volunteer as gardeners, then donate the produce to food kitchens for low-income shoppers. I think it’s a great trend.
      I see so much space being groomed to look like indoor-outdoor carpeting instead of feeding the community. I also see more and more people starting to grow food in their front yards. That is encouraging.

  2. You would love it here out in the Latvian countryside, every house and even every rural apartment block has a piece of land where people grow their own vegetables. When the crisis struck a couple of years ago more people went into the gardens and started tending them, as they knew that if they waited for the government to do something then they wouldn’t have food enough to eat. At least most Latvians still know what to grow and how to store foods, a knack many in the UK and America have lost.

  3. Thanks Denise. I wasn’t aware of SNAP or Wholesome Wave. Too bad Wisconsin isn’t part of that, though I see that most of the US isn’t involved. Hope it catches on!

    • Yes, it’s a cool idea, isn’t it, Monique? I think it would say good things about us as a country if it does catch on. It’s only been in existence for 4 years, so I would say Wholesome Wave is off to a good start.
      thanks for your comment!

  4. I definitely was aware of SNAP, but not Wholesome Wave, although it looks like they are active here in New Hampshire. Programs like this aside, I’m seeing a proliferation of urban gardening opportunities, formal and informal, and I think this is a key piece to the puzzle. I’ve also seen farmers market prices steadily fall over the last few years, as demand and availability of markets increases. Farmers markets around here are finally starting to accept EBT cards for payment. In Boston, the city farmers markets even have a program that doubles the value of the foodstamp dollar. We’re getting there!
    Eleanor

    • Yes, I agree that more and more people are getting into gardening, and that has got to be good. I’m working on an article for Isthmus Madison’s weekly paper, on gardening in the Madison area. A PhD candidate in environmental studies surveyed the area very minutely and had some interesting conclusions. I’ll be blogging about that soon.
      Thanks for your perspective.

  5. That’s a really interesting read, thanks for that.

    When I moved to Colorado from Denmark we went to our nearest supermarket, Walmart, to get some food, I nearly cried. The state of the food was dire, some of it I wouldn’t even have taken home to eat that night as it was way past its best, there was so little of it compared to the junk and it was expensive compared to Denmark. America is renowned for being cheap and Denmark for being expensive but my food bill did not go down in America and that is despite the fact that Denmark has a 25% sales tax on everything, including basic foods, unlike other countries like the UK that has zero tax on staple foods. Fortunately we did find first Wholefoods but that was rather expensive and then Sunflower Markets which had a good selection of fresh food compared to the processed and the processed was usually organic or low processed stuff, the only problem was that I had to drive right across town to get there, hardly a local shop.

    • I know what you mean, Joanna.
      I find very little that I consider food in American grocery stores. I used to use Wholefood pretty exclusively. Others would comment on how expensive they were, but the price one pays for eating that processed sugar/fat food-like substance is higher.
      I am always looking at articles on saving money, and they often mention using coupons to cut grocery costs, but the coupons are always for processed food-like substances that I never buy anyway.
      The ingredients labels on those things are scary. I recently learned that our government has approved a labeling system that means producers can say “zero transfat” IF the amount of transfat per serving is under .5 grams. If you read the labels on the little bags that are served with meals in fast food and other restaurants, those bags actually contain 3 servings. So you can get 1.47 grams of trans fat in a bag that says Zero Trans fat. The maximum recommended to ingest of trans fat a day is 1.11 grams. That means the unwary consumer just went over the daily limit while thinking they were eating none.
      What a system!

  6. That’s dreadful Denise. I didn’t ever use coupons either the whole two years I lived in Colorado, like you they never had coupons for those things I actually bought. I was just thankful for finding places that actually sold good food at reasonable prices http://www.sunflowermarkets.com/ and a little cafe called the Chocolate Rose in Wellington in Colorado, just off the I25, this place made their own cakes, had wonderful teas and home-made quiches and soups. Wonderful

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