Until last summer, low-income people who received federal assistance to purchase nutritious food could use their benefits to buy a Pepsi from the local corner store. A fresh bell pepper at the Dallas Farmers Market, however, was off limits. The Dallas Farmers Market administration couldn't be bothered with the card scanners, tokens and other logistics necessary to take part in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- aka food stamps -- at the downtown market, even as other private farmers markets across the country were setting up successful programs.
Debbie Bozeman and the Farmers Market Friends saw the opportunity to increase sales at the market while also helping those in need get access to food that was actually nourishing. Last June her office started a pilot program that allowed SNAP participants to use their benefits to buy tokens that could then be exchanged for fresh produce at the downtown market. By the end of the year, despite little promotional work, her office processed $9,000 in SNAP spending. This year the group hopes to get the word out about the program in an effort to increase spending at the market.
Bozeman teamed up with the Firehouse Agency to develop a series of posters aimed at getting fresh fruits and vegetables into the hands of SNAP participants. In addition to the posters, which attempt to make fresh fruits and vegetables look as attractive as hamburgers, Skittles, ice cream and french fries, promotional materials will remind people that SNAP dollars don't have to be spent on snack cakes in neighborhood grocery stores. The effort will target community centers, food pantries, food banks and family clinics.
Most area farmers markets participate in the program, and many double a portion of the value of SNAP money spent at the markets. Customers who spend $10 at the Coppell and White Rock Local Market, for instance, can walk away with $20 worth of produce. It's a great deal.
Bozeman says she's working with corporate sponsors to offer a similar doubling program at the Dallas Farmers Market, but she's not there yet. Her posters, however, will start making appearances in and around Dallas starting today.
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