By Ashley Todd, Farmers’ Market Coordinator and comanager
Nearly four years ago I started working with Farmers Market Fund to secure federal funding to increase our Farmers’ Market SNAP Match from $5 to $10. This program gives folks using SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps) extra money to spend at the Farmers’ Market, which helps both folks on low incomes and local farmers and food producers. Doubling our match from $5 to $10 seemed like a total long shot, and I wasn’t sure how the more restrictive benefits required by the federal grant would be received by our shoppers. But I figured we had nothing to lose, so I gave it a go.
When we received the funding, the impact on our community was immediate. Customers lined up each week, eager to spend their additional food dollars on local produce and handcrafted foods. Vendors benefitted too, watching their market earnings steadily increase as people spent more each market day. Over the 3 years we offered the $10 match, hundreds of families spent their additional food dollars supporting dozens of local farmers and producers. While all the work we do here at People’s is driven by our values, The Farmers’ Market’s SNAP Match program is one of the clearest ways I have seen us working toward our Ends of “access to healthful foods our customers can trust” and “thriving cooperative & local economies.”
Unfortunately, in late 2017 we found out that our federal funding was drying up, due to the Federal Government’s increasing demand that programs be “innovative” and tech-driven, rather than simply being helpful. But it felt so important – and so good – to provide such a tangible benefit to the community, so we decided to continue funding the program in 2018 ourselves. We worked out a plan to keep offering the $10 Match, using a combination of People’s money, round-up drives at the register, and a generous donation from Farmers’ Market Fund.
In late 2018, as we neared the end of our fiscal year, we were again faced with the question of how to continue funding the $10 SNAP Match. Alas, the outlook was not as good as it had been the year before. While the success of the program was certainly a boon to our shoppers and vendors, it was fantastically expensive for People’s; in 2018 we distributed nearly $24,000 in SNAP matching funds.
In addition to not having adequate cash available to continue funding a $10 match ourselves, we also can not afford to pay staff to work on the intensive fundraising campaign that would be required to cover the nearly $12,000 budget shortfall. We are super bummed to have cut a benefit that we know really impacts people’s lives. More than 60 families per week have been using the SNAP Match program, and spending nearly $24,000 in matching dollars alone with our vendors. The impact of reducing the match to $5 is not insignificant, and we know some folks in our community will really feel that loss.
We still believe, deeply, in the power of communities to support and take care of each other. And we believe that the Co-op has a role in building that kind of community of support & care. In 2019, we hope to find a way to bring the match back up to $10. If you have ideas or fundraising skills you’d like to share, or if you’d like to make a contribution to our SNAP Match fund, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.