One local farmers market is now teaming up with a state organization to make fresh local food more accessible — particularly in areas considered to be food deserts.
Florida Organic Growers (FOG), a nonprofit organization,introduced a new initiative called Fresh Access Bucks at the Alachua County Farmers Market two years ago.
Fresh Access Bucks is a government-funded, three-year grant program awarded by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The program allows SNAP members, or people who qualify for food stamps, to withdraw money from their SNAP cards and double the amount by exchanging it for plastic, colored coins.
Xanna Prentice, the organization’s SNAP EBT (Electronic Bank Transfer) coordinator, sets up a stand every Saturday at the Alachua County Farmers Market to give customers who qualify for the program green and purple coins that they can use for fruits and vegetables only. Prentice said this incentive program can provide a solution to help alleviate issues that food deserts cause.
“For this market, part of the incentive, the doubling of money, is to try to get people out of the food desert and to get here,” said Prentice.
Still, there’s a transportation problem for some people.
“There is a bus route that comes close to this market and we’re working on getting more transportation,” said Prentice. “Something that I’m really interested in is figuring out a way to get a bus stop specifically at this market. I think that’s a very long term goal, something that would take a couple of years of planning. But it’s something that I’m very interested in promoting.”
Participant Jan Hart said she loves it.
“I don’t like to buy [fruits and vegetables] at the store because it’s old and this is all nice and organic and new,” Hart said.
Most of the vendors at the farmers market love the initiative because it helps with sales.
Produce vendor Sonny Andrews said, “it helps [the community] and it helps me.”
In order for vendors to participate in the Fresh Access Bucks program, their products must be fresh food certified. This certification usually applies only to fruits and vegetables. Liam Covey-Shannon, a vendor of honey and bee wax, said he wishes his products would apply.
“Honey’s a really good resource for people of lower income families,” Covey-Shannon said. “It has a lot of sugar in it, a lot of energy, and for people who can’t get good food frequently, honey’s a very good source to have.”
Florida Organic Growers partners with 25 farmers markets in Florida. Its next step is to partner with more markets, including Gainesville’s downtown farmers markets — an area technically part of a food desert, according to the federal government.
Prentice said the program is still developing but is a testament to how the community is working together.
“This is the most obvious showcasing of what our community is, here in Gainesville. You know, local farmers, local people working together to create something really healthy and good.”