“We wanted to broaden the scope of who has access to the kinds of foods that we’re able to provide through the market,” said Jeremy Lynch, Moab Farmers’ Market manager. “We want to bring good, healthy, economically stable and locally produced food to a broader community that we have here in Moab instead of access being segregated out to people in the know.”
According to the USDA, nationwide food stamp sales at farmers’ markets have nearly doubled, from $11.7 million in 2011 to more than $21 million in 2013. The USDA has made a concerted effort to expand SNAP recipients” access to farmers’ markets, giving grants to nonprofits like Utahans Against Hunger.
Laura Flower, outreach worker for Utahns Against Hunger, said people with lower incomes “are particularly vulnerable to obesity and diabetes because of the lower nutritional value foods they can afford.”
“Everyone should have equal access to the highest quality food available which is generally at local farmers markets,” she said.
Nearly one in four households in Utah struggle with food hardship, meaning those households can answer “yes” to the question, “Have there been times in the past 12 months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” The USDA maintains that the SNAP program decreases families’ and children’s food insecurity while helping them afford nutritionally adequate diets each month. Yet SNAP and the simple phrase “food stamps” carry with them some negative stereotypes.
“There is a misconception with food stamps that people manipulate the system,” said Flower. “But in truth, nearly 90 percent of the people on food stamps are children, the elderly, and the disabled.”
Flower suggested that by bringing SNAP to a public sphere like farmers markets, those negative stereotypes will begin to dissipate.
At the Moab Farmers’ Market, Lynch agreed.
“I hope that more people who have food stamps are comfortable to use them here at the market,” he said. “Through expanding programs like this we’re helping to reduce the stigma that’s often associated with the SNAP program, just by normalizing it and helping people have access to better quality foods while supporting local economies.”
Many market participants see value in accepting SNAP. Isaiah Placencia, of Castle Valley Farm, has noticed “quite a bit of people using their food stamps with us.” Accepting SNAP, he said, “helps people from all types of incomes enjoy the farmers’ market.”
Zach Lowe, of 4th East Farms, agreed.
“I think its important to offer local, fresh produce to different socioeconomic groups,” he said.
Sasha Legere, a Moab resident who uses her SNAP at the market, says she “gets fresh, healthy food and supports the local economy” while also reducing package waste. And produce at the farmers market is often less expensive or equivalent to grocery store prices, she said.
“I think its a better deal for your dollar,” Lynch said. “The food supports the local economy and uses methods that are healthier. So it creates a product that is better for you, better for the environment, and better for the community.”
At the Moab market however, Lynch noted that the number of people using their SNAP cards has been “slow” to increase.
“I think it could take a while, maybe a few years,” he said. “You need to influence a larger cultural sway in the way people think about these food issues, maybe even through state wide or local incentives. It can take years to move people in the direction of local food.”
To get more SNAP recipients to shop at Farmers’ markets, Utahns Against Hunger is applying for mini-grants to fund more incentive programs.
“I would be interested in increasing municipal or city involvement in supporting the local food economy either through incentive programs or having the city become an avenue for programs to get the word out” said Lynch. “It’s time to bring up to a higher moderate use — for everyone — the locally crafted farmers market goods and decrease our dependence on things that are trucked into town.”
For more information about how to use SNAP at the Moab Farmers’ Market, look for the Market Manager booth in Swanny Park. The Farmers’ Market is open from 5 to 8 p.m. every Thursday.