Michigan Farmers Market Supporters Educate State Legislators

May 17, 2019 | Food Assistance Acceptance

Farmers markets increase healthy food access in communities throughout the state

East Lansing, Mich. – Representatives from farmers markets across Michigan convened in Lansing on May 14, 2019 to meet with state legislators and discuss the positive impact that accepting food assistance benefits at farmers markets has on healthy food access throughout the state. According to the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), a statewide nonprofit working on behalf of farmers market organizers, managers, farmers, vendors and supporters, there are currently more than 300 farmers markets in Michigan.

In 2017, more than 52 percent of farmers markets in the state reported to MIFMA that they were authorized to accept food assistance benefits through the United States Department of Agriculture Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp program. This program, administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), offers nutrition assistance to over 45 million low-income individuals and families across the United States, and provides economic benefits to communities. Each year, program participants spend roughly $70 billion in SNAP benefits, including more than $24.4 million at farmers markets in 2017.

“Over the last decade, farmers markets across Michigan have been making real strides in increasing fresh food access for low income SNAP participants through a variety of innovative outreach, education, and incentive programs like Double Up Food Bucks. We are eager to increase the reach of these programs even further with additional support from federal, state, and local governments,” says Amanda Shreve, MIFMA Executive Director.

According to Shreve, of particular interest is securing permanent support to ensure farmers market have access to the technology required to process SNAP food assistance benefits at farmers markets. Shreve indicates that “like traditional food retailers, farmers markets must process these benefits through a point of sale device like a credit card reader. Such traditional devices require constant access to both electricity and a telephone line, however many farmers markets operate in locations that make access to both quite challenging.”

“Using wireless equipment and service can help alleviate these access issues, but it can be cost prohibitive for many farmers markets, some of which have little to no budget for such technology,” says Joseph Lesausky, Food Access Manager for MIFMA. During the 2018 budget process, the state of Michigan included a one-time line item of $500,000 to assist up to 200 farmers market and direct marketing farmers secure funding to obtain wireless devices.

“This has been a fantastic boost to so many of our residents who rely on SNAP to ensure they have healthy food to eat,” Lesausky adds. “However we not only want to increase the number of farmers markets who are able to accept SNAP, we also want to ensure that they are able to maintain that ability for the long term.”

Farmers market managers, vendors, volunteers, and supporters came together in Lansing to encourage legislators to make this support permanent by incorporating language in the states’ Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) contract. This contract is currently making its way through the request for proposal process and a new contract will be signed before September 30 to serve the state for the next four years.

MIFMA estimates this change would increase the state EBT contract cost by $140,000, but the increase would be split with the USDA, requiring the state to share only $70,000 of the increased expense. According to Shreve, “the rapid growth of SNAP usage at farmers markets in recent years demonstrates that even a small increase in the percent of SNAP benefits spent at farmers markets can make a real impact — more fresh, nutritious foods going to families who need it, and millions of dollars in revenue going directly to farmers. We are confident that this small investment in our local food economy will pay exponential dividends in the health and well-being of Michigan’s residents.”

About Michigan Farmers Market Association: The Michigan Farmers Market Association works with and for farmers market organizers, managers, farmers, vendors, and friends to create a thriving marketplace for local food and farm products. To learn more, please visit www.mifma.org or call (517) 432-3381.