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.