Fast food dollar menus and economy-sized, processed meals have dominated the dinner table at low-income households for some time now. Nutrient-dense fruits and vegetables can be expensive, leaving families, especially those on food stamps, little to no option when it comes to healthy eating. But, as ABC 10’s Rick Tarsitano explains, Michigan Farmers Markets are starting to change all that with a fresh look at local produce.
Every Saturday morning from mid-May through the end of October local farmers pack the Marquette Commons with the fruits and vegetables of their labor.
“They’re so brave to farm up here in this climate, so it’s nice to know that they have a place to come and there will be hundreds of people each week,” said Myra Zyburt, Manager of the Marquette Farmers Market.
Before last year, their client base was somewhat limited to fairly affluent families who could afford the costs associated with naturally grown, high quality products.
“There can be the perception that the fresh food is too expensive,” Zyburt added. “It isn’t necessarily because you can eat all of it, and the quality is so high coming directly from the farmer. Everything was either picked last night or this morning, so you can talk to the farmer and understand how it was grown; if there were any pesticides, fertilizers, any of that.”
But the Fair Food Network’s dedication to building a more just and sustainable food system changed all of that with a program called “Double Up Bucks”, allowing users to get more fresh fruits and vegetables.
Over the past four years, they have taken a Detroit-based pilot program that doubles the benefits of SNAP Benefits when used to purchase locally grown, Michigan produce, and expanded it to more than 150 farmers markets in the state, including Marquette’s.
“What I see with the Double Up Food Bucks is people buying additional things that they typically wouldn’t, like more fruit if you will, rather than just a few root vegetables,” noted Farmer Q’s Owner, Tom Brian. “It definitely is a feel-good thing.”
Now kids can pick out their favorite fruits and vegetables with their parents, swipe their Bridge Card at the register and receive up to $20 in matching funds per day.
“It’s definitely an excellent program,” remarked Marquette DHS Director, Doug York. “We encourage our clients to utilize the program just for those benefits. On the nutrition side, it’s fresh, locally grown, they know where it’s coming from, they have that connection. At the same time, it supports the local economy. In fact, being a frequent visitor at the farmers market myself, we have seen clients utilize it and they speak highly of the ability to do that.”
The program was first launched in Marquette at the beginning of the 2012 market season with an $8,000 grant from the Fair Food Network. 529 transactions later, they eclipsed their allotment, and sent away for more funding to meet the growing demand. They are on pace to do the same this year with 283 new customers indicating “Double Up Food Bucks” brought them out to the market. A similar response has been felt at national level, with at least twice as many recipients jumping on board this season.
The Michigan branch of the operation has been backed by private donors sine 2009, in hopes that the federal government would see the benefit and eventually take the reigns. Recent cuts to federal food assistance has led to some concerns about the program’s future, but officials say it will continue in 2014 with a combination of federal funding and money raised by the Fair Food Network.
Some economists believe that if one out of every five residents shifted their focus to purchasing locally grown food, it would add 42,000 new jobs to Michigan’s workforce and stuff city and state coffers with close to $255 million in tax revenue.
While the Farmers Market is primarily used as a place to buy and sell goods, its community atmosphere can’t be ignored, with families on both sides of the counter helping each other grow.
To find out more information on the program head to www.fairfoodnetwork.org.