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Monday, August 22, 2011

Emporia Farmers Market has matching funds for food

as printed in the Emporia Gazette, August 19, 2011

Families relying on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other programs to put food on the table have a friend in farmers markets and the Emporia Farmers Market is no exception. This summer, nationwide, participation in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is at a record high of approximately 45 million Americans. In Emporia, the farmers market has matched more than $1,000 in Vision cardholder tokens in 2011. A gift from the Emil Babinger Charitable Trust has allowed the market to provide $2 for spending on fresh produce and food items at the market for every $1 debited from a state of Kansas Vision card. This program, in its second year, has drawn many new shoppers to the market. Use of the SNAP benefits program at the Emporia Farmers Market is 5 times greater than it was in 2009, the year it was introduced.

The market will continue matching funds for state of Kansas Vision cardholders until they have given away $1,500. There has been a surge of new users in recent months. “We gave away nearly $400 in matching dollars the month of July alone, compared to $105 in May and $117 in June,” says Tracy Simmons, Market Manager.

Simmons attributes the growing popularity of this market program in part to community partnerships that have helped to get the word out. The Flint Hills Community Health Center, Community Health Coalition has purchased $800 in market bucks via a Kansas Department of Health and Environment grant in the past year that have been distributed as a way of encouraging new shoppers with children to check out the market. $500 of these dollars were given through the market’s first full season of winter markets. In recent months, invitations to receive market bucks have been distributed through brown bag concerts at the library, Big Brothers Big Sisters, SOS, and several other venues where volunteers encourage local youth to bring their parents to shop the market.

The Emporia Community Foundation has recently gifted the Community Health Coalition with another $800 for low-income families to try out the market. These market buck gifts are specifically for families who have youth in the house and, in many cases, the parents hand the money to the kids and say, “Let’s go pick something good to eat.” Getting families to forgo the packaged junk food as an after school snack in favor of an apple, melon or plate of fresh veggies is an educational process, as much as anything, and kids are more likely to chose healthy options when they have that experience of talking with the farmer who pulled that vegetable from the ground.

According to Suzanne Worthen-Miller, Chronic Disease Risk Reduction Program Manager at the Flint Hills Community Health Center, nearly 65 percent of youth in Lyon County qualify for free and reduced lunches and these families need increased access to locally grown foods. “We hope these incentives will encourage members of the community to begin building more healthful relationships with food, which will, in turn, help our community reduce the incidence of obesity and associated chronic conditions.”

“We are always looking for new ways to encourage people to try out the farmers market. It’s a social experience, as well as the best source of local and healthy food in town. It’s fun to be able to hand new folks money to spend, as well. We hope it gets them hooked on the farmers market,” says Simmons.

If there are any teachers, school counselors or professionals aware of hungry kids who could benefit from this program, please contact Tracy Simmons, Emporia Farmers Market manager, at 343-6555 or email emporiaFM@gmail.com.