Patrick-Murray Administration Announces Grant to help Boston farmers' market expand services for low income customers
The grant, to benefit the Dewey Square Farmers' Market, is one of 22 grants awarded to markets and organizations serving 16 communities across the state. Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) Commissioner Scott Soares and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) Commissioner Julia Kehoe today joined Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino at the grand opening of the Dewey Square Farmers' Market to highlight the award.
"Access to fresh, locally grown produce in our cities supports Massachusetts farmers and brings healthy food to our communities," said Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA) Secretary Ian Bowles, whose office includes DAR. "We're pleased to join with city officials and private organizations to make these benefits possible."
The grants, made possible by a partnership between the DAR and the DTA, are for the purchase or rental of wireless point-of-sale terminals capable of processing SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, through the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system. Grants also fund transaction fees, outreach programs for SNAP participants, promotional flyers and posters and incentives to encourage
SNAP participants to use their benefits at Massachusetts farmers' markets.
As a result of DAR and DTA's cooperation, SNAP clients will be able to use their benefits at 53 markets in Massachusetts, up from 31 markets in 2009 - an increase of 71 percent. DAR works to foster a direct exchange between farmers and consumers, and increase access to local, healthy food statewide. By utilizing EBT machines, these markets have expanded the access to healthy foods within their communities.
"We are very pleased that so many farmers' markets across the Commonwealth will be able to accept EBT/SNAP benefits this summer," said DAR Commissioner Scott Soares. "This is nearly double the number from last year and represents about 25 percent of the farmers' markets in the state. I look forward the day when all of our farmers' markets are able to participate."
"One of the main goals of SNAP is to increase access to fresh, healthy food," said DTA Commissioner Julia Kehoe. "I'm thrilled that we have been able to help more farmers' markets to accept this critical benefit, which assists low-income individuals and families, and strengthens the local economy. Every dollar spent in SNAP benefits equates to nearly $2 in local production, sales and jobs for the Commonwealth."
SNAP serves more than 747,000 individuals in Massachusetts - one in nine residents of the Commonwealth - by assisting low-income individuals and families with purchasing healthy food. SNAP households access their benefits by using an EBT card that is similar to a debit card and is accepted at most grocery stores. This program is federally funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and serves as the first line of defense against hunger and poor nutrition.
Individuals, families with children, seniors, and people with disabilities who are having difficulty meeting their basic needs are encouraged to apply for SNAP by visiting www.mass.gov/dta, calling 1-866-950-FOOD, or visiting their local DTA office.
"In the past few years, the number of farmers' markets in Boston's neighborhoods has doubled, and the markets participating in the Bounty Bucks program has tripled, from seven to 22," said Mayor Menino. "The Boston Bounty Bucks Program provides city residents access to locally grown produce at city farmers' markets, making it easier for low-income families to make healthier food choices. I am delighted by the growing success of this important partnership between the city of Boston, The Food Project, local and regional farmers and our city's expanding farmers' markets network. By working closely with Wholesome Wave and the Commonwealth's Departments of Agricultural Resources and Transitional Assistance, we are promoting healthier communities and strengthening markets for local farmers."
DTA provided the initial funding of $50,000 for the statewide grants. Additional funding was provided by the Wholesome Wave Foundation, based in Westport, Conn. and Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.
"Through incentive based programs that address issues of accessibility and affordability, we are providing low income communities with the resources to make healthier choices, and, through their purchasing power, they are becoming the heroes behind a changed food system," said Michel Nischan, CEO and president of Wholesome Wave.
"Harvard Pilgrim is pleased to support the efforts of the Commonwealth and the Federation to foster greater access for underserved families who yearn for local fruits and vegetables," said Karen Voci, Executive Director of Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation.
In recent years, the number of farmer's markets has more than doubled from 101 markets in 2004, to 215 currently up and running this season. Farmers' markets not only provide shoppers with fresh, healthy, locally grown farm products, they also create community gathering spaces in cities and towns across the state. By purchasing products directly from the farmer, customers have opportunities to learn more about the how the produce was grown, where it comes from, when it was picked, and often get helpful tips on how to prepare it.
"Mass Farmers Markets is grateful for the enthusiasm and support of farmers, shoppers, municipal, state and federal government agencies, private foundations, and the community and excited to enter into the complicated process of bringing SNAP/food stamps back into the farmers market system," said Jeff Cole, Executive Director of the Federation of Massachusetts Farmers' Markets.
DAR's mission is to ensure the long-term viability of local agriculture in Massachusetts. Through its four divisions - Agricultural Development, Animal Health, Crop and Pest Services, and Technical Assistance - the DAR strives to support, regulate and enhance the Commonwealth's agricultural community, working to promote economically and environmentally sound food safety and animal health measures, and fulfill agriculture's role in energy conservation and production. For more information, visit MDAR's website and/or follow at twitter.com/MDARCommish