Farmers market season kicks into full gear soon in Maryland.
Over the past few years farmers markets have increased the ability to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. Not only does this allow low-income participants the opportunity of adding fresh local fruits and vegetables to their diet, it allows farmers to increase their customer base too.
SNAP redemption generated $18.8 million in Fiscal Year 2014 – “a nearly six-fold increase since 2008.” Since 2008 SNAP authorized farmers and farmers markets grew to 753 to 6,400. (USDA Report)
SNAP is now available for individual farms and farm stands.
The program was recently expanded to include individual direct marketing farms at markets and farm stands. This means that if a farmers market as a whole does not accept SNAP, a vendor now has the opportunity to apply for SNAP. Interested farmers can apply at the SNAP EBT Sign-Up Event at the Annual Maryland Farmers Market Conference on March 15, 2016. More information and registration can be found here. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service will be there to help. Make sure you bring a picture ID (driver’s license or passport), Social Security Card (or other official document with your name and SSN) and a copy of a voided check for bank account you will use to deposit funds.
There is also a grant currently available that may allow you to receive free Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) equipment necessary to process SNAP payments. There are three devices to choose from. Remember, you can use these devices to accept plastic payment from customers, giving your customers another option for payment at markets, and you one device to serve both. I have used the MarketLink product extensively now (pictured on right) working at market, and it works very well.
With Spring around the corner, I know many are making sure the tent is sturdy, price signs are ready, and chalk boards cleaned. Consider too the upcoming event and EBT grant, to help you increase your customer base and provide fresh local products to those in need in your community.
It’s August and it’s hot, and this year in particular there has been a lot of rain. Yet many of our local farmers, from vegetable and fruit producers to meat and dairy farms, are working hard to bring enough to market. Last week was National Farmers Market week, and Maryland farmers showed up to share the fruits of their labor with the locals. And locals showed up to purchase it! The bounty, spread out in vast array this time of year, is not only a symbol of how we can live healthier lives and eat a variety of food close to home- it’s a symbol of community. Community coming together to produce for each other and community coming together to purchase from each other.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture Marketing Service Administrator Anne L. Alonzo recently announced the results of the 2014 Farmers Market Manager Survey. Approximately 1,400 farmers market managers nationwide were surveyed and the results show that farmers markets are growing. “There are over 8,400 farmers markets in USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory, and this survey shows that they are thriving and expanding as they provide healthy, local fresh fruit and vegetables to America’s families,” said Alonzo. “The survey will help market managers continue to succeed by giving them a better understanding of the local foods marketplace.” The national survey identified some compelling trends such as increased customer traffic, market managers looking for more vendors, a strong organic presence, and more.
What’s Happening Locally?
In Maryland it seems the farmers markets are seeing similar trends. Shelby Watson Hampton, Agricultural Marketing Specialist with the Maryland Department of Agriculture stated that, “Maryland is diverse, and every market is different, but this year what we’ve seen is that overall attendance is the same if not a little bit more.” She also said there has been a steady number of Maryland Department of Agriculture recognized farmers markets for the past three to four years. “Maryland currently has over 140 vibrant and flourishing farmers markets that are spread out over all 23 counties and Baltimore City.”
“These local markets are beneficial to their communities in may ways: they provide consumers with the opportunity to purchase fresh and local products, they increase communication between farmers and customers which helps develop a bond of trust between producer and consumer, and they serve as an important community gathering place where urban, suburban, and rural communities come together,” said Shelby.
And it sounds like the overall farmers market trends tend to be up in Southern Maryland too. Stacy Wilkerson, market manager for North Beach farmers market in Calvert County, said the market is seeing an increase in customers, an increase in vendors (with 20 farmers this season), and phone calls daily from interested new vendors. Stacy also noted that many restaurants have formed relationships with the vendors. In St. Mary’s County, the California Farmers Market manager and local produce farmer David Paulk reported something similar. “The market is seeing a steady customer base that comes each week April through November”, said David. He also mentioned that number of farm vendors is growing.
Cia Morey, administrator at SMADC, attended the evening Riverdale Park Farmers Market in Prince George’s County last week to survey vendors and consumers and reported back that it’s a wonderful weekday evening market in an urban setting that has several farm vendors. The market also has prepared food vendors to take advantage of patrons picking up dinner as they shop for their weekly supply of local vegetables. Over 84% of the respondents of the survey indicated that they were specifically coming out to shop at the market that evening, and the average amount spent per buyer was just under $20. The market has excellent community and town support as they have provided a dedicated market manager and over many years this market has become a strong pillar of the town.
We have heard that sales tend to fluctuate at farmers markets, but that farmers still find markets to be important to meeting new customers, building relationships with them, and helping customers understand what it takes to grow the food they are feeding their families with. And working at a market myself, I see how getting together at the markets builds stronger communities.
For more information on regional farmers markets, or to get in touch about becoming a vendor, visit the Washington Post’s listing of regional farmers markets.
Where is a Farmers’ Market that accepts WIC and Senior checks? There’s an App for That!
By Cia Morey, Southern Maryland Agricultural Development Commission
On St. Patrick’s Day last month, I attended Maryland Department of Agriculture’s Annual Maryland Farmers’ Market Conference. This all-day conference had numerous speakers and several presentations that covered everything from weighing scale certification, various resources for farmers and markets, information on permits for food safety, marketing presentations and at the end of the day vendor training and certification for accepting WIC at farmers’ market.
The Conference began with a warm welcome from MDA’s new Secretary Joseph Bartendfelder. It was nice hearing about his farm and his days at farmers’ markets in Maryland. I enjoy this annual meeting as it’s a time to visit with colleagues and put a face to a name I may work with throughout the year. It allows us to gear-up for the market season and the information presented is informative and helpful.
One of the most exciting announcements is MDA’s new mobile site and app called the Farmers Market Finder. The USDA Supplemental Nutrition Grant Program provides grants that allows state agencies to provide checks to low-income participants. The programs are the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) (FMNP) and Seniors (SFMNP). Both checks can be used at farmers’ markets with authorized FMNP farmers. In 2014, Maryland farmers received more than $500,000 through the two programs. The checks are handed to participants at WIC clinics and through the county’s Aging Department. The top reasons for not using the checks at farmers’ markets are:
not knowing where to find a farmers’ market,
not knowing how to prepare or cook the produce and
not remembering to use the checks before expiration.
The solution is a mobile phone app that lists all the Maryland farmers market that have FMNP and SFMNP participants. The app will remind the user how to use their checks at the market, link to videos and phots of featured FMNP farmers, list eligible and ineligible foods for the two programs, recipes, links to agency sites and an option to “opt in” to receive text messages every month to remind them to use their FMNP checks. participants will be able to sign-up for the service when they receive their checks.
Maryland is the first state to pilot this program and it will begin this market season. This program is a win for low-income folks to have access to local healthy produce and to our market farmers for potential customer-growth.