Risk management is a cornerstone of RAFI’s work with farmers. In the general sense, this means identifying financial risks and developing strategies to minimize their impact. In the agricultural realm, some strategies include crop insurance, diversifying production, and exploring new markets. Working on the consumer side of things through my position as Local Foods Access Ambassador, I also spend a lot of time thinking about risk, though from another angle.
Launched this spring, Connect2Direct’s Farm Fresh and Healthy Pilot Program aims to bring in new SNAP customers at up to 10 NC farmers markets between the 2015-2016 seasons. For low-income customers, there’s an element of risk involved in going out of one’s way to shop at market. Will there be affordable products the customer needs and wants? Will each of the stands accept SNAP, or will they run into an embarrassing situation of attempting to pay with tokens and be denied? Will the investment of time and resources to travel to the market be worthwhile?
While “risk” seems like a heavy term to use for the everyday act of grocery shopping, there’s an economy of choice involved in where to purchase food, made more complicated if resources are limited. The Farm Fresh and Healthy Pilot Program works to balance the risk and reward of shopping at market in a variety of ways.
The main focus of the program is a SNAP/EBT matching incentive. Every dollar a customer spends at market using SNAP/EBT, is matched up to $10 with bonus Fresh Bucks tokens to be spent on produce at the market. To put this in perspective, if a SNAP customer received the maximum $10 bonus each market visit (to a weekly market), that’s an extra $40 per month, or a 32% increase in benefits compared to the average monthly SNAP benefits of $126, allotted per an individual in NC in 2014. A monetary bonus allows new shoppers to try out the market without investing a larger portion of their grocery budget.
Incentive programs aren’t the only way to facilitate a fruitful farmers market trip. Our market partners have been creatively engaging with their communities to make shopping a more rewarding experience for all customers through a number of strategies.
- The Historic Marion Tailgate Market has offered regular cooking demos and Growing Minds @ Market kid’s activities. Education on how to prepare local, seasonal food means that shoppers are more likely to turn their purchases into a meal they’ll enjoy and return to the market.
- Morganton offers two farmers markets during the week, one larger market on Saturday and a Wednesday mini-market in the heart of downtown. The different options accommodate limited time or transportation abilities.
- Elaney Wood Heritage Market offers a welcoming community atmosphere, a gathering space for rural neighbors at the indoor market space.
- Customers shopping at the Market Square Farmers Market in Reidsville are familiar with the marketplace from attending community concerts, movie nights, and fitness events. Market staff have also created a variety of media and outreach tools to spread the word about Fresh Bucks and show what the market has to offer.
- Teens Leading Change Roadside Stand empowers youth to get involved in the food system by employing them to grow, advertise and sell the food produced in their community garden.
These efforts to make the farmers market a more welcoming, budget-friendly place each play a part in addressing a new customer’s uncertainty of shopping at the market. While there’s risk in uncertainty, there can also be reward, and that’s what can be the most exciting part about market.
In contrast to the grocery store, the farmers market is a fluid space—providing seasonal bounty, supporting new businesses, and creating community among food producers and consumers. The market offers an invitation to expand one’s comfort zone and explore local food. Our work at RAFI aims to extend that invitation to all.
For more information on farmers markets, including SNAP shopping trends and stories from other incentive programs, visit Connect2Direct’s resource page.