Farmers markets feed our community needs

September 23, 2015 | By More

Read the full editorial recently featured in the Free Lance-Star here. 

Nothing tastes as summery as a juicy, fresh-from-the-garden tomato, unless it’s some corn on the cob or maybe a slice of watermelon.

If you don’t grow your own, it’s easier than ever to pick up local vegetables and fruit from Fredericksburg-area farmers markets. The region is home to a growing number of markets that are tapping into customers’ interest in locally grown food, as well as value for the dollar.

Assisted by governments and nonprofit groups, five markets working cooperatively in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and King George attract dozens of producers of homegrown food and other healthy products such as meats, seafood, eggs, cheese, baked goods, plants, jam and more.

These markets, which post details about their operations on the website thefarmersmarket.co, provide a boost for family farms looking to sell their produce to a broader customer base than they get at a roadside stand. And for people looking for fresh food to put on the table, the markets offer a seasonally changing array of produce.

Thanks to policy changes and funding in recent years at the state and federal levels, low-income families can get more fresh, nutritious food than ever. Residents in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, can use the benefits at the farmers markets in the city, Spotsylvania and King George just like they do at the grocery store. Benefits are transferred monthly to an EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card and can be used like cash.

Elizabeth Borst, Spotsylvania farmers market manager, says grants from the Mary Washington Healthcare Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture help low-income families get more nutritious food out of their benefits through a bonus token program. When residents spend $10 of SNAP EBT card benefits at participating farmers markets, they can receive a token for an extra $10 for fruits and vegetables.

Borst says it’s a great way to help struggling families put good food on the table while helping the local farm economy. Since 2009, more than $540,000 in SNAP, bonus money and credit card tokens have been spent at the markets in the three localities.

There’s room for the program to grow because social services departments provide about $4 million a month in SNAP benefits in the city and four surrounding counties.

Farmers markets in Stafford and Caroline counties are not currently part of the SNAP/EBT card program. That should change. We hope the program can become truly regional in the future. Now, some residents who can least afford it have to travel to use their benefits at the markets in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and King George. “People come from far away to our markets to use the benefits,” Borst said.

The markets also connect local growers with local faith-based food pantries that give away local produce to people who can’t afford fresh vegetables and fruit. Church members who operate the pantries say they love to provide more than canned and processed food for those seeking help. The markets and food pantries work well with state and federal initiatives to eliminate childhood hunger.

Read the full editorial recently featured in the Free Lance-Star here. 

Category: Market Publicity

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