Report Finds Farmers Markets Face Barriers in Connecting Farmers & Low-Income Shoppers
Sweeping yearlong examination of farmers markets nationally finds economic, social and technological roadblocks for SNAP recipients
NEW YORK CITY – (July 15, 2010) – Economic, social and technological barriers prevent many Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants from buying fresh and healthy food at farmers markets in their neighborhoods, according to a sweeping, independent study of farmers markets nationally. This lack of access should be considered not only a fundamental health issue for SNAP participants, but a loss of potential income for farmers. Redirecting existing federal funds, as well as instituting changes at the community level can minimize these barriers.
In “Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets,” which can be downloaded at www.foodsecurity.org or www.farmersmarketcoalition.org, the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) and Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) sought to define and measure the challenges farmers markets face in serving the growing number of SNAP participants nationwide and offer a road-map for improvement. Hard copies may be ordered through CFSC at no charge ( $5/each for shipping and handling).
While popularity and availability of farmers markets has burgeoned nationwide, the report found a significant and widening challenge for markets seeking to serve federal nutrition program participants, many of whom already have limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables. These challenges also make it difficult for local farmers to participate in and benefit from tens of billions of dollars distributed through federal nutrition programs.
This groundbreaking report focuses primarily on SNAP recipients. Recipients receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, on EBT (electronic benefits transfer cards). Though the percentage is growing, less than 20 percent of farmers markets have EBT terminals. SNAP transactions at farmers markets accounted for a mere .008% of total SNAP transactions nationwide in 2009. This rate of expenditure is 25 times less than all American consumers spent at farmers
markets last year.
Among the reasons, according to the report:
- EBT terminals are expensive to purchase and operate. Also, successful EBT programs require a significant investment of labor. Many farmers markets are volunteer-run or do not have the funds or staffing to implementthese programs.
- Currently, there does not exist any technical assistance program to help markets share information about successful models to speed up the pace of innovation across the country. Each market is forced to "reinvent the wheel."
Among other findings in the report:
- Many SNAP shoppers are not aware of the existence of farmers markets or that a growing number of markets accept EBT cards. Even when farmers markets do become SNAP-authorized retailers, barriers such as cultural or language obstacles, inconvenient hours, product mixes, transportation and perceptions that market prices are higher persist.
- With USDA programs like “Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food” and White House programs like “Let’s Move” creating momentum, there is a historic opportunity for the USDA and Congress to connect nutrition policy with agricultural policy.
“Farmers markets improve access to healthy foods in areas underserved by retail grocers,” said Andy Fisher, executive director of the Community Food Security Coalition. “Seen in this light, the inability of SNAP recipients to use their benefits at farmers markets – along with other barriers – is a fundamental health issue.”
Among the report’s recommendations:
- USDA and other government and private funders can support leadership development within the farmers market community by facilitating the development and capacity of state and regional farmers market organizations.
- Similarly, government organizations should fund a nationwide technical assistance program that provides train-thetrainer, mentorship and teaching opportunities for farmers market leaders to disseminate best practices in a peer-to-peer format.
- Farmers markets fulfill a public service by operating EBT terminals. They should not bear the entire cost of operation.
- USDA, public agencies, state groups, community-based nonprofits and foundations should subsidize these operational costs.
- Farmers markets should evolve and experiment with new models that can address convenience, product, price perception, and cultural issues.
- The government can increase education and outreach efforts for SNAP shoppers to increase patronage of farmers markets.
- Congress should explore the creation incentive programs to entice SNAP shoppers to farmers markets as part of the 2012 Farm Bill.
And, among its conclusions:
- Portions of the tens of billions of dollars the federal government already spends on federal food programs should address the increasing rates of diet-related diseases among its beneficiaries.
- The federal government should redirect expenditures away from subsidizing unhealthy foods and towards the incentivizing of healthier foods.
- Similarly, the government should direct expenditures away from subsidizing corporate concentration in the food system and towards supporting family-scale and locally based agriculture.
“We know that farmers markets play an important role in improving access to fresh fruit and vegetables for ALL consumers, especially in impoverished communities that have been abandoned by grocery stores,” added Fisher. “We felt it was important to conduct this study to uncover and recognize the barriers to success these farmers markets are facing as well as to determine solutions to achieving positive outcomes in low-resource communities.”
The research process included literature reviews, surveys and phone interviews. The report reflects a spectrum of statelevel stakeholders including SNAP agencies, anti-hunger advocates, statewide farmers market associations and state departments of agriculture. Much of the research was concentrated in 15 states, some at the vanguard of this issue, and others lacking significant leadership capacity altogether. Each of these states, however, is in one way or another representative of the myriad of challenges and potential solutions.
ABOUT COMMUNITY FOOD SECURITY COALITION
The Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) is a North American coalition of diverse people and organizations working from the local to international levels to build community food security. CFSC’s diverse membership includes 450 organizations from social and economic justice, anti-hunger, environmental, community development, sustainable agriculture, community gardening and other fields dedicated to building strong, sustainable, local and regional food systems that ensure access to affordable, nutritious and culturally appropriate food to all people at all times. For more information, visit www.foodsecurity.org.
ABOUT FARMERS MARKET COALITION
Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) is a national organization that provides educational resources, networking, and technical assistance to local, state, and regional farmers market organizations. With the support of its members, FMC represents farmers markets at the state and federal level, communicating their needs and garnering public and private support for their long-term growth and sustainability. For more information, visit farmersmarketcoalition.org.