Although this story from Madison is a bit sobering (and was probably meant to be an alarming title by the writer, good work there Lindsay), it is also a well-reported one about the issues that we currently face in the hard work of encouraging benefit dollars to be spent on healthy food with farmers at markets. Clearly, by working closely with municipal partners these excellent markets have already begun to build deep understanding and support among those officials. We are still searching for an answer (or answers) to the costs and time needed to administer these programs, but there is no doubt that the success in attracting low-income shoppers has impressed our potential partners. I believe these programs will be rewarded in the long run with sustainable funding or with cooperative administration for managing the financials and outreach pieces if we keep telling our story in as many ways as we can.
What seems clear to me is that markets cannot continue to knock on doors for small amounts every season to fund these programs, but must instead find income streams that will maintain these programs over years. That work must happen even as we band together to fight for better technology and back office systems on a regional and national level. We can do both of those things if we collect and share data (good and bad) and talk often to each other about these issues.
The city has expressed significant support for EBT at farmers’ markets as well. In August through October of this year, grants from several local hospitals made $8,000 available in “MadMarket Double Dollars” at four smaller markets on the north side, the Eastside market at the Wil-Mar Neighborhood Center and two on the south side. For every $1 in Quest benefits, the user got another $1 from the grant.
City officials want to expand that program.
“We saw incredible growth of SNAP use at those (smaller) markets,” said Mark Woulf, the city’s alcohol and food policy coordinator. “That’s something we don’t want to lose. … Hopefully we can work through a solution.”
Woulf said financial support of the DCFM’s FoodShare program would require City Council approval, but it “would be on the table.” He conducted some of the follow-up surveys after the Double Dollars pilot program and was encouraged by what he heard.
“The Eastside market did something unprompted, which was give us a break down of (SNAP use at) individual vendors,” Woulf said. “I was impressed by how well spread out it was.”