Farmers Market Got A Brand New Bag

When I hear the word ‘Farmers Market’, a breathtaking image comes to mind …

But I never think: “Why Farmers Markets?  Why not Peoples Markets?”

I suppose that’s not too odd, in itself.  But those who engineered the Double Value Coupon Program (DVCP) sure wondered about the evolution of farmers markets – because they acted.

I couldn’t find evidence that a community needs assessment was completed for the food system program I investigated, but it’s possible community nutritionists have conducted them, and adapted this program as a result.

Fortunately I did find this Heritage Radio interview with Gus Schumacher, a founding member of the Wholesome Wave Foundation.  Forty-seven minutes and forty-five seconds in, Gus recants a story which is one that he’s told a lot.  So much that it eventually got around to other head-haunchos of the Wholesome Wave Foundation, and triggered the Double Value Coupon Program – which in plain English means the doubling of every buck spent by low-income eaters at farmers markets.

Page 6 of this glossy document (prepared for Wholesome Wave by the Harvard Kennedy School of Government) illustrates their mini-Logic Model.

The program’s mission is to increase the health of SNAP-eligible consumers at farmers markets by increasing their buying power, and, in so doing, increase the buying market of local farmers and other local businesses surrounding the markets.

It’s clear this creates a more inclusive system of relationships.  Non-profit organizations are at the table.  Government (at the very least, the federal one) does too.  And they assist the day-to-day functions of a farmers market and the usual suspects – the farmers and consumers.  You’d think that that would be a pretty powerful partnership.

And, according to Wholesome Wave, it is.

They evaluated the effectiveness of existing DVCPs (as opposed to evaluating the difficulties of starting them) by surveying (the methods and sample size are unknown) producers and low-income individuals participants.  The foundation’s analysis on these surveys reveals a substantial impact for communities in the 26 states that have implemented DVCP since 2010.

  • 73% of DVCP consumers reported that they would not have come to the market to spend their federal benefits without DVCP (with statistics like this, it’s a wonder there’s no mention of DVCP on websites like this)
  • As a result of shopping at the markets in 2010, 87% of DVCP consumers increased or greatly increased their consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables.
  • Over 90% of DVCP consumers agreed or strongly agreed that the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables they bought at the market made a big difference in their or their family’s diet.
  • DVCP consumers highly value many aspects of participating markets, including supporting local farmers and businesses, the quality and selection of produce at the market, and taking part in their community.

Farmers participating in the program also had overwhelmingly satisfactory responses to survey questions.  Most interestingly to me:

  • 63% of the farmers responding to the survey were women
  • 46% are under the age of 45 (national average is 57), and
  • 50% reported that DVCP was very important or important to their sales at the markets

These results show a bit of change.  The majority of market managers, farmers and consumers are happy with the way its structured, and feel it broadens the base of support for farmers market.  In this way, the different farmers market players view their DVCP as a force for stabilizing their local food systems.

My sense is that this program helps us visualize the many external benefits to increasing consumer choice.  By (finally!) offering a subsidy for fruit and vegetable purchases, the costs of these products come in line with the goliath’s acting in the food system – the commodity food programs. The program has many foundation and corporate supporters which have drawn up this script and are narrating a new story with new players and new dynamics.  [sidenote: it’s interesting to see the various supporters scroll along the bottom of the screen on Wholsome Wave’s site]

The backers provide an open monologue, beginning with the question: “what would the food system be like if” … and allows you and me to fill in the blank with our own statements about, say, the farm bill or the markets in our own communities.

That said, it’s easy to concede that many challenges go unremedied when an outside force simply flicks their wand and two times the radishes appear.

But the good news is: some of the more obvious barriers (read: how many people know about this program and does anyone still know how to cook fresh vegetables?) are being addressed at markets where the Double Value Coupon Program has been implemented.  Community-based coalitions are forming to provide the type of outreach into neighborhoods so that people hear about and people come for the veggie deals.  It seems natural that once more people enter an outdoor space with good vibes, the more likely that space will feature things like cooking demonstrations and gardening workshops and climbing walls (read: things that vibrant communities use to encourage deep forms of health).

All of this says a lot.  It shows what a sudden infusion of capital can catalyze in a formerly black-topped parking lot.  It’s not just monetary benefits.

Just to prove a point, I’d like to see what the East Atlanta, Georgia farmers market looked like (pictures, pictures, pictures!) when SNAP was bringing in $300 so that I could compare it to when the DVCP was implemented in year one and two when $1,322 and $2,972 in SNAP benefits were redeemed (and doubled).  How did this money ripple, visually, throughout the market?

My imagination tells me that this sort of transformation takes a simple farmers market and turns it into a better partnership between rural and urban communities – a Peoples Market of sorts.

The market I grew up in ...