Saturday, February 28, 2015

Food Aid & Farmers Markets

“Hunger benefits programs are vital to many farmers markets”
 By Russ Parsons for the Los Angeles Times, February 24, 2015

Peppers from the Gardena farmers market. (Ken Hively / Los Angeles Times)
Most people think of farmers markets as places where famous chefs shop for precious fruits and vegetables, or where passionate cooks can meet their friends for a pleasant morning’s shopping. But for many Los Angeles County farmers markets, it is customers at the other end of the economic spectrum who are the backbone of the business. Particularly at small and mid-sized markets in poor neighborhoods, food stamps — now called CalFresh — and WIC [Women, Infants and Children] benefits make up the bulk of farmers market business. More than 60 Los Angeles County markets now accept benefits.

For Celeste Colford, shopping at the Friday market in a parking lot of the First Congregational Church in downtown Long Beach, being able to use the benefits to buy fresh fruits and vegetables is a key step in the road back from hard times. “I first started coming here because I was homeless and I really looked forward to the market because I could sit down in a quiet place and buy fresh fruit and vegetables and get my mind off things; it was really good for me,” she says.

Colford continues to come to the market now that she has an apartment of her own because “the fruits and vegetables are always really fresh and they’re always in season. Plus, I trust the farmers.” Julie Schwarz, manager at the Long Beach market, estimates 65% of sales comes from customers using benefits. “This market probably wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for them,” she says. Farmer Roland Tamai, who sells collards, kale, chard, beets and strawberries, among other items, says: “In the beginning, I was a little skeptical about the whole thing, but this is a huge part of our business, especially at this market. “We get a lot of low-income families from this area shopping here and I’d say that it makes up up to 40% of our sales any Friday. I love it. We get business and the customers get to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Everybody’s happy."

The amount of sales might surprise you. Ida Edwards, manager at the Saturday market in Gardena says her customers regularly redeem $1,000 to $2,000 in benefits every week. “It’s good business for us and it keeps getting better.” Indeed, at the farmers markets run by Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA), the use of benefits has increased as much as 50% over the last year, says Jackie Sauceda-Rivera, director of Programs, Benefit & Incentive Programs. Nationally, the value of benefits used at farmers markets almost quintupled between 2009 and 2013 — to more than $21 million, according to one study. [….] 

For the rest of the article, see here.


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