Increased Access to Local Produce in Southwest Minnesota
While the farmers market season may be coming to a close, for one VISTA project it is only the beginning of something new; increased access to produce for low-income residents. This new project has increased the sales of the 2016 Marshall Farmers Market by over $3,500, nearly three-fourths of overall sales! Read on to Learn more about how two College Health Corps VISTA members worked to make Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits one way to pay at Marshall Area Farmers Markets.
Kelsey Stern, the previous VISTA for Healthy 56258 in partnership with Southwest Minnesota State University and the Marshall Area YMCA (14’-16’), teamed up with Margaret Palan from Western Community Action to make the farmers markets in southwestern Minnesota more available to all. The idea sprung when both attended the 2015 Duluth Food Access Summit and were introduced to the concept of accepting EBT/SNAP benefits at farmers markets. The mission of this new project was to offer fresh and local fruits and vegetables to customers of all income and cultures and for SNAP participants to be able to use their EBT cards at farmers markets.
The partners for this endeavor included Western Community Action, the Marshall Area YMCA, Healthy 56258, University of Minnesota Extension, Redwood Area Food Shelf, Southwest Minnesota Opportunities Council & Community Wellness Partners, Minnesota Farmers Market Association, Hunger Solutions of MN and local farmer market vendors.. With the support of VISTA members Stern and Faith Depuydt, the 2016-2017 VISTA with this project, all partners were able to collaboratively pilot this project in the summer of 2016.
The support of VISTA members didn’t stop there. Depuydt recruited, trained, and managed volunteers to run the point of sale (POS) readers to accept EBT cards. Volunteers helped make the market days run smoothly, swiping EBT cards. Providing tokens or Market Bucks to be used as payment to farmer market vendors.
On July 30, 2016, the first southwest Minnesota farmers market accepted SNAP/EBT cards. Currently, SNAP/EBT are offered at three farmers markets in Marshall, Redwood Falls, and Worthington, and more will be coming soon! Hunger Solutions of MN is offering a special promotion, Matching Market Bucks: for every $10 spent on an SNAP/EBT card, an additional $10 of free Market Bucks are given. From July 30th through the month of September, over $3,500 in sales have been assisted by SNAP benefits at the Marshall Farmers Market. That’s nearly three-fourths of overall sales! “Think of all the additional customers that can now purchase fresh local produce and how that benefits the health of the community,” Depuydt says. With each week and month they see new and old faces, young families to senior citizens. Thanks to the hard work of partners, volunteers, and community agencies, more families of southwestern Minnesota are able to access the fresh produce offered at farmers markets.