It is important to understand the work that farmers markets have done over the last decade and a half to bridge the digital divide that resulted from the 1994-2004 move from paper food stamps to the EBT card across the U.S. In 2005, New Orleans’ ECOnomics Institute*, house at Loyola University’s Twomey Center for Peace and Justice was one of the first market organizations in the country to build partnerships to fund the technology and the outreach to reclaim the attendance of food stamp shoppers at farmers markets. The organization has expanded its programs to encourage low-income and at-risk neighbors to be able to access healthy food grown by their farm neighbors, and shared its tactics and findings with market organizations across the U.S.
The average benefit for a SNAP recipient is about $4 per day, but in Louisiana the average cost for just one meal is $3. For one person eating three meals a day with no snacks, that’s a food-budget shortfall of $150 each month. For a family of four it’s $600 per month, and to qualify for the program, these families can’t net a monthly income above $2100.
Families participating in WIC can have higher incomes than those receiving only SNAP benefits, and some families receive benefits from both programs. But unlike SNAP, WIC food packages limit families to purchasing specific items and brands, and the allowance for fruits and vegetables is only about $10 per month.
At the office for Market Umbrella and the Crescent City Farmers Market we get several calls a week from people who need food. Their SNAP benefits have run out. The closest food pantry isn’t open that day. Spending money on food now might mean falling behind on rent or the Entergy bill.
Unfortunately, we aren’t always able to help these people in crisis, but we do operate several programs at Crescent City Farmers Market that incentivize and encourage healthy eating on a budget. Our Market Match and Market+ WIC programs give households extra money to purchase fruits and vegetables, all of them grown within 200 miles of the city, picked fresh, and packed full of nutrients.
The Market Mommas Club gives Medicaid-eligible mothers who are breastfeeding $80 a month to spend on local goods at our markets—an amount roughly equal to what might be spent on infant formula over the same period of time.
Besides bringing more fresh produce into our community’s homes, we’ve also partnered with local schools through our Farm to School program. It connects farmers to school food providers and assists with hands-on gardening education for teachers and students.
We believe our farmers and families should have sovereignty over the foods they grow and consume, and that growing and shopping local are vital to our community’s physical, mental, and economic health.
* ECOnomics Institute renamed itself Market Umbrella and established itself as an independent 501 (c) 3 organization in 2008.