Farmers markets make fresh food more accessible for low-income shoppers

It’s that time of year: farmers markets throughout the D.C. area are flush with fresh berries, greens, beans and more. And this summer, all of that produce will be a little more accessible to Maryland residents.

The Maryland Farmers Market Association recently expanded its grant-funded Maryland Money Market program — which provides shoppers with a dollar-for-dollar match for purchases made using federal nutrition benefits at farmers markets — from 21 markets in seven counties, to 35 markets in 13 counties for the 2019 season.

Most of the markets offer up to $5 per day in matching dollars. (If a customer spends $5 in SNAP benefits at the market, for example, they’ll receive an additional $5 from the Money Market program). In Prince George’s County, however, farmers market shoppers can receive up to a $10 match at the county’s four participating farmers markets.

Maryland Farmers Market Association Executive Director Amy Crone said the Money Market program not only increases access to fresh, healthy food for low-income individuals, but it also helps support the state’s local farming community by bringing more business to the market.

“It’s ensuring healthier families, it’s strengthening our local agricultural economy and then also improving economic development by making markets stronger and more sustainable with higher numbers of customers,” said Crone, who added that about 20,000 Maryland residents participate in the program each year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports 11.8% (15 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2017, and more than 650,000 Marylanders are food insecure and don’t know where their next meal is coming from, according to the Maryland Food Bank.

Food-insecure adults are more at risk for negative health outcomes, such as chronic disease and obesity. In children, food insecurity can affect mental health, the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion reports.

Since 2013, the Maryland Farmers Market Association has distributed more than $700,000 in Maryland Market Money. Other farmers markets in the D.C. area offer similar matching programs for SNAP/EBT and WIC recipients, including the FRESHFARM network, which oversees 15 farmers markets in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.

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