“If we can get this directly into people’s kitchens … then we consider it a win.”
Some low-income shoppers might assume farmers markets, with their specialty products, are out of reach. But more of these markets in the Commonwealth are accepting public benefits such as SNAP for fresh produce, helping farmers earn a profit and families eat healthier.
The state-run Healthy Incentives Program provides a dollar-for-dollar reimbursement when SNAP users buy healthy, local food directly from Massachusetts farmers. A family of six, for example, can receive an additional $80 a month on their EBT cards to spend at their local farmers market.
“If we can get this directly into people’s kitchens and we can just cover our cost of what it takes to distribute it,” said Rich Allium, mobile market manager for Atlas Farms in Deerfield, “then we consider it a win.”
A state survey found that each HIP dollar spent results in an additional $2 in local economic impact, when farmers spend that money on local goods and services. Since its creation in 2017, more than 113,000 households have used HIP. Some 44% of those families include seniors, and 30% include children.
Allium meets these families at his mobile farmers market, a converted bus he brings to senior centers in Franklin County and food pantries in Turners Falls and Greenfield. He also works with the Holyoke Housing Authority to ensure pop-up farmers markets visit so-called “food deserts.”
John Rivera, who manages the Holyoke Farmers Market, one of the oldest in the country, said many farmers offer their customers not just produce, but useful recipes and even tips on how to grow food themselves.
“When you go to a farmers market,” he said, “you’re not only getting, really, a big bang for your buck, but you’re also coming down to the roots of how it was grown, how can you store it – so many other, like, hidden perks.”
A study of HIP’s first year found that each HIP user increased their fresh fruit and vegetable intake by one serving per day, and eating healthier means public health-care costs are lowered. Patients of the Holyoke Health Center can also get monthly, $20 vouchers to purchase fresh, local produce. The concept is to use food as medicine, and the prescription is the farmers market.
Kathryn Carley began her career in community radio, and is happy to be back, covering the New England region for Public News Service. Getting her start at KFAI in Minneapolis, Carley graduated from the University of Minnesota and then worked as a reporter for Minnesota Public Radio, focusing on energy and agriculture. Moving to Washington, D.C., she filed stories for The Pacifica Network News and The Pacifica Report. Later Carley worked as News Host for New York Public Radio, WNYC as well as Co-Anchor for Newsweek’s long running radio program, Newsweek on Air. Carley also served as News Anchor for New York Times Radio. She now lives near Boston, MA.