The ongoing discussion of how to make sure everyone has access to real food is a complicated one, because it’s not just about access. There’s also a question of economics. People may have access to fresh produce, but that won’t do them any good if they don’t have the money to buy it. One way that can be useful in addressing this problem is dollar-for-dollar matching programs.
Last week, Market Match, a program that matches customer’s federal nutrition assistance benefits like SNAP and WIC at farmers markets in California, received a $2.5 million grant that may help it triple its reach in Los Angeles County over the next five years.
Matching up to $10, Market Match, which is managed by Ecology Center out of Berkeley, is offered at 150 farmers markets around California. But it isn’t the only matching program of its kind.
In Portland, and around all of Oregon, there are many farmers markets that offer matching programs for SNAP funds at a variety of monetary levels. Washington, D.C. has a program that matches up to $15 in SNAP funds, and at the Homegrown Alabama Farmers Market in Tuscaloosa, there are even “double days” throughout the farmers market season, in which they match up to $25.
More and more farmers markets around the country are now accepting SNAP funds, but that doesn’t always mean that they’re used. Dollar-for-dollar matching programs are powerful as they double the buying power of the customer. Instead of $10 to spend on produce, the customer now has $20. It’s no surprise that these programs have become popular, and it’s estimated that there are around 500 farmers markets with match programs in the country.
The ultimate goal for a matching program is getting more healthy food into the hands of people that otherwise might not have the opportunity to buy it. But these programs don’t just benefit the consumers, they’re also good for the producers.
According to the Los Angeles Times, “In a survey conducted by Market Match in 2013, 80% of farmers at participating markets reported that they sold more fruits and vegetables, and 66% said that they had made more money, as a result of the program.” That means more produce in the hands of people, and more money in the hands of the farmers.
In the case of California, that’s particularly important, especially in a year fraught with the effects of drought. “Every dollar is doing double-duty — not only helping poor people in Los Angeles, but reaching out and helping some of California’s most economically devastated rural communities as well,” Ecology Center executive director Martin Bourque told the Los Angeles Times.
It’s not just organizations banding together and pulling together funds for these types of programs. Even the federal government has approved money to go to matching programs. As part of the new farm bill, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive is expected to provide up to $20 million annually for five years to be used for matching funds at farmers markets, with the goal of incentivizing people to buy more fresh produce.
In a world where there’s easy and cheap access to fast food, that could be a game changer for getting more people to eat real food, and supporting farmers all at the same time.
Photo Credit: North Charleston