For Immediate Release - April 06, 2011

Agricultural Officials Announce Grants for Farmers' Markets to Assist Low-Income Residents

BOSTON - April 6, 2011 - With farmers' markets preparing to open for the season, the Patrick-Murray Administration today announced that it will be providing $50,000 in grants for equipment and support to help farmers' markets process Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits used by low-income residents.

These grants, made possible by an ongoing partnership between the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources (DAR) and the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), are for the purchase or rental of wireless point-of-sale terminals capable of processing SNAP benefits through the Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system.

"No one should be deprived of the ability to feed his or her family a nutritious meal," said Energy and Environmental Affairs Secretary Richard K. Sullivan Jr. "These grants will continue to ensure all Massachusetts residents have access to wholesome, farm-fresh food, regardless of their economic situation."

The grants also fund transaction fees, outreach programs for SNAP participants, promotional materials and incentives to encourage SNAP participants to use their benefits at Massachusetts farmers' markets.

"Continuing to expand opportunities for Massachusetts farmers to sell healthy, fresh food through this partnership is an exciting initiative," said DAR Commissioner Scott J. Soares. "Farmers' markets provide an ideal venue to enhance direct marketing of locally grown agricultural products - increasing business opportunities for our farms and improving access to healthy foods within communities throughout the Commonwealth."

As a result of DAR and DTA's cooperation, SNAP clients were able to use their benefits at 54 markets in Massachusetts last year - an increase from 31 markets in 2009. In 2010, the administration awarded grants to 22 markets and organizations serving 16 communities from Boston to North Adams.

"Access to healthy food is critical for every resident of Massachusetts, and DTA is proud to continue our collaboration on this important initiative," said DTA Commissioner Julia E. Kehoe. "In addition, this year we are piloting an exciting community service opportunity, where our clients can gain valuable employment experience by volunteering as SNAP Farmers' Market Ambassadors. Our Ambassadors will assist with operations on market day and conduct community outreach to make sure everyone knows they can purchase fresh, locally-grown produce by using their SNAP benefits at farmers' markets."

This effort also marks the continuation of a nationally unique and successful public-private partnership with a focused commitment to agricultural and community health interests. DTA provided $30,000 of funding to specifically support markets in Hampden County, with DAR contributing $20,000 to aid remaining markets statewide. The Wholesome Wave Foundation, based in Westport, Connecticut, has raised an additional $32,000 and the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation has pledged $10,000.

SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, serves more than 755,000 individuals in Massachusetts - one in nine residents of the Commonwealth - by assisting low-income individuals and families with purchasing healthy food. SNAP households can 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.

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.

In recent years, the number of farmer's markets has more than doubled, from 101 in 2004 to 233 in 2010, with more planned to open this year. DAR continues to work to promote a direct exchange between farmers and consumers, and increase access to local, healthy food statewide.

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 DAR's website at www.mass.gov/agr and/or follow at twitter.com/mdarcommish.