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Giving for greens
Farmers Market.co reports shows increased use

Date published: 1/31/2013

FRIGID WINTER days are the best for thinking about one of summer's finest joys: locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables. For some, seed catalogs and sketches of garden layouts help foster those dreams. For others, an end-of-season report from The Farmers Market.co should do the trick.

The Farmers Market.co is a cooperative association of four local markets: two in Spotsylvania County, one in Fredericksburg, and another in King George County. Their simple mission is to bring locally grown fruits and vegetables to you--and local low-income families.

SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps) are delivered via a plastic card much like a credit or debit card. But farmers markets traditionally are cash operations. To overcome this hurdle, The Farmers Market.co was able to get wireless mag-stripe card readers in local markets.

Suddenly, the world of locally grown fruits and vegetables opened up to SNAP beneficiaries. They could use their cards to buy tokens that they then could use like cash in the market. (A bonus: The readers allow non-SNAP customers to use their credit cards to shop.) Last year, shoppers bought over $131,000 in tokens--more than double the 2011 tally. In all, over 100,000 customers visited local farmers markets, adding more than $1.5 million to the farm and food economies hereabouts.

That is a lot of healthy food going from local farms to local tables. And efforts by the markets and other neighboring organizations to help SNAP recipients to consume more fresh produce are, well, bearing fruit. The Nutrition Incentive Program matches the first $10 of SNAP funds used at farmers markets each week, increasing the buying power of lower-income families. Over two-thirds of SNAP participants say that this program is very important in their decision to spend their benefits at the farmers markets. And they say that the amount of produce they consume, along with the variety, has increased substantially since they began shopping at the markets.

The markets' "Vegucation Station" helps encourage all shoppers to go green with resources including books on gardening and cooking from the Central Rappahannock Regional Library and materials from the Virginia Cooperative Extension service.

This is how The Farmers Market.co brings together farmers and consumers. Everyone benefits. But now the organization itself needs a bit of help. Having lost a federal grant, it's trying to raise $20,000 to continue the Nutrition Incentive Program this year. If thoughts of fresh, local tomatoes and bright green beans warm your heart, why not help with a little donation?