Florida residents receiving Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits have the opportunity to double their purchasing power on fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets through the Florida Organic Growers Fresh Access Bucks program.
The program was awarded a Farmers Market SNAP Support Grant from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at the beginning of October. The money will go toward expanding the program in Florida and funding part-time staff to manage SNAP activities at farmers markets.
SNAP benefits offer nutritional assistance to poor people. With Fresh Access Bucks, a SNAP recipient at a participating farmers market can double his or her SNAP benefits to buy fresh fruits and vegetables.
In Gainesville, the Alachua County Farmers Market and the Union Street Farmers Market both offer SNAP benefits. The Alachua County Farmers Market participates in the Fresh Access Bucks program. The more centrally located Union Street Farmers Market does not.
“It typically takes about three years of an incentive program at a market for there to be regular participation for SNAP shoppers in the area,” said Carmen Franz, the manager of Fresh Access Bucks.
She said at the Union Street Farmers Market, area SNAP recipients already use their benefits at the farmers market without needing an extra incentive like Fresh Access Bucks.
The Alachua County Farmers Market is held on Saturday mornings about 5 miles from downtown Gainesville on U.S. 441. The Union Street Farmers Market is held on Wednesday evenings in downtown Gainesville.
“The biggest issue with the [county’s] Saturday market is transportation,” said Xanna Prentice, the project manager of Florida Organic Growers’ Electronic Benefits Transfer.
She said she is trying to get a van that could help provide transportation for people to the Alachua market to use their doubled SNAP benefits.
Cody Galligan, a farmer with Gainesville’s Siembra Farm, is a vendor at the Union Street Farmers Market and the Alachua County Farmers Market. He said he is surprised the program isn’t offered at Union Street as well, since it is more accessible.
“The Fresh Access Bucks program is a big motivation to make it out to market if you have SNAP,” he said.
The Fresh Access Bucks program is limited to fresh fruits and vegetables, not pre-made foods, Prentice said.
She said she hopes the program is able to start providing cooking demonstrations and recipes with the vegetables offered at the market.
“People don’t always know what to do with fresh fruits and fresh vegetables,” Prentice said.
Florida Organic Growers hopes to expand the Fresh Access Bucks program to the Union Street Farmers Market so more people can get doubled SNAP benefits — it is just a matter of funding, Franz said.
Since the Union Street Farmers Market already has such a high number of SNAP participants, the program’s current grant could not cover doubling purchases.
She said the average market they work with for the Fresh Access Bucks program gets about 10 or 15 SNAP transactions a week. The Union Street Farmers Market averages around 100 a week.
“It’s in a totally different ballpark,” Franz said.
“If we were to incentivize all of the transactions, our budget within that individual market would be a lot higher.”