Getting fresh, local food can often prove to be costly, but the city of Sturgeon Bay has started a new program that will hopefully help those with low incomes eat a little better.
As of June 23, the Saturday morning Sturgeon Bay Farmers Market began accepting FoodShare benefits as currency. FoodShare is the Wisconsin arm of the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
In Door County, 2,768 residents – including 1,698 adults and 1,071 children – were receiving FoodShare benefits as of May 2012. According to UW – Extension Nutrition Coordinator for Door County Jennifer Spude, even more residents could be applying for and receiving FoodShare, but they don’t want to deal with the paperwork.
All of these people, many of whom are regulars at food pantries such as Feed My People and Lakeshore CAP, could benefit from the high-quality nutrition options that a farmers market can provide, says Spude. The trick will be to get the word out so that they actually take advantage of the new program.
“A lot of what makes something like this work is word of mouth in our community,” she says.
While Spude says that her office has mostly been targeting those already receiving assistance from pantries, the city’s Municipal Services department has been working to educate other agencies that may touch base with those who can utilize the program, like the United Way and the Boys and Girls Club.
Sturgeon Bay Municipal Services Secretary Jennifer Lenius says that while the program has gotten off to a somewhat slow start, she’s hopeful that it will pick up as the summer goes on.
“We had probably five people use it the first week, but we had a lot of people asking questions about it,” she says.
The purchase of the point of sale device that allows the city to accept the FoodShare Electronic Benefit Transfer card at the market, as well as the operating costs of the program, was underwritten by Ministry Door County Medical Center.
“The cost just to get that little machine is over a grand,” says Spude, “and we were really able to do it only because the hospital helped us.”
Spude says that, without grants, it may be tough for other farmers markets in the county to set up similar programs. Information on what grants farmers markets can apply for is available at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.
In addition, other programs and institutions, such as Wisconsin’s Women, Infants, and Children Program and the Door County Senior Resource Center, issue farm market vouchers that participants can use to purchase food at farmers markets.
Spude says that the goal of all these farmers market food assistance programs is to open the local food option up to those who normally wouldn’t, or couldn’t, purchase food at a farmers market.
“The big effort this year is getting people who don’t go to the farmers market to go,” she says. “For many of these families and individuals, this may be their first time at a market.”