Last week Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack helped to kick off the nation’s harvest season by announcing nearly $35 million in new funding through four grant programs to support local and regional food systems, including farmers’ markets. The Pittsfield-based Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets will be the recipient of two of those grants, bringing more than $348,000 in federal funds to Maine for work in communities across the state.
MFFM’s largest award is from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, which will provide $249,600 to increase access at Maine farmers’ markets for people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps). The funding will enable MFFM to hire a SNAP Program Manager to support low-income access at the markets and impact specific communities around the state (through partnerships with organizations such as the Portland Farmers’ Market Association, Washington County: One Community, and the Aroostook Community Action Program).
“Unfortunately, Maine ranks first in New England for food insecurity, and many low-income shoppers have little access to a fresh, local, healthy foods. Farmers and farmers’ markets across the state are already working hard to help those in need get healthy food. This grant will allow the Federation to provide more of the tools and technical support necessary to help these programs succeed. Projects such as this benefit small farmers, too. SNAP is a federally-funded program, so to see those dollars go to local producers and circulate in Maine’s economy is a good thing,” according to MFFM’s executive director, Leigh Hallett.
This funding will impact many regions of the state. Healthy Acadia’s Washington County Food System Coordinator, Regina Grabrovac, is excited about the grant. “I frequently hear how difficult it is for low income people to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables because they cost more than processed foods that are typically higher in calories. If we are to reverse the trend of diet-related disease, then increased access to fresh foods is critical, and farmers are ready to be part of the solution. Markets in our region need the support that this grant provides because the tools that allow for EBT access at farmers’ markets were not designed for isolated rural communities. This necessitates a great deal of technical trouble shooting at each site. Now we will be able to offer strong support services to get each of our region’s markets up and running with SNAP benefits.”
The Federation also received a grant for $99,000 from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service. In addition to a two year, statewide marketing campaign, that project includes developing a Farmers’ Market Snapshot Week event to collect data, photos, and stories about Maine’s markets, culminating in the publication of an annual report. According to Hanne Tierney, Chairman of the Portland Farmers’ Market Association (and Chair of MFFM’s Board of Directors), “This is a fantastic opportunity that USDA has offered Maine farmers’ markets. We have had substantial growth over the last ten years, and this grant will allow us to promote the farmers’ markets at a statewide level which would otherwise not be possible. The ‘snapshot’ will create a forum for us to share what we have accomplished with each other and the public. This grant is going to benefit markets across the state, from the small market in my community, to the largest markets in Maine.”
MFFM was founded in 1991, and works with farmers, consumers, and communities to make wholesome, locally-grown foods available to all residents, to educate consumers about food resources, and to support farm viability. With more than 8000 farms and 150 farmers’ markets statewide, the local food network not only contributes to regional food security, but is a vital part of Maine’s economy. The database of Maine’s farmers’ markets is available online at mainefarmersmarket.org.
Here are the executive summaries of the projects from the grant proposals:
Farmers’ Market SNAP Support Grant ($249,600 over 3 years)
The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM) works with farmers, consumers, and communities to make wholesome, locally-grown foods available to all residents. A primary focus of this work is providing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) training, technical support, outreach, and fundraising assistance to Maine farmers’ markets (FMs). Currently there are more than 35 Maine FMs accepting SNAP benefits (up from only 10 four years ago, but still only about 25% of all Maine FMs), and their need for support has now outpaced MFFM’s capacity. Simultaneously, there are many markets wishing to develop new EBT programs.The advent of more than $150,000 a year in Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) funding to the state for the next three years is an exciting new opportunity, but means the markets will need intensive support to maximize the impact of the FINI funding. A grant from FMSSG will fund a full time SNAP Program Manager (SPM) for 3 years to help establish new SNAP markets, support those with existing programs, and guide the FINI markets to leverage that funding.
The new position will increase MFFM’s SNAP-dedicated staff time from 20 hours per week to 50 at a critical development period for low-income access at Maine FMs. The SPM will offer year round training opportunities, develop an annual cycle of education and promotion, collect data and conduct program evaluations, and work with regional partners to ensure the ongoing stability of existing SNAP programs.
Thanks to existing MFFM infrastructure, the SPM will be able to rapidly scale up MFFM’s existing resources and programs to impact the network of Maine SNAP markets immediately. With the added staff time we will be able to expand our educational programming as early as Spring 2016, with preliminary branding work underway in time for the summer market season. This grant period will encompass three full cycles of educational outreach, statewide and local promotion of SNAP access at farmers’ markets, data collection, and program analysis. By the 2017 summer season, we will have a fully developed branded outreach campaign. By the summer 2018 season, we expect 65% of Maine FMs to offer SNAP access. Through work with subgrantees on this project, we expect to see steady growth in SNAP redemption in Maine’s two largest cities, and stabilization and expansion of SNAP programming at rural markets.
Farmers’ Market Promotion Program ($99,000 over 2 years)
The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM) has long worked to cultivate a vibrant, sustainable farmers’ market (FM) community. That community has requested help with promotion. To increase access to and consumption of foods from these markets, we are planning an annual, statewide promotional campaign, culminating each August with Maine Farmers’ Market Snapshot Week (MFMSW). During MFMSW, volunteers will collect photos, stories, videos, and data at their markets, celebrating peak season and recording a “snapshot” of what Maine FMs mean to communities. We will collect and analyze the “snapshot” information, publishing a MFMSW Annual Report. The project will emphasize local foods and local farmers while promoting the Maine FM community. The project’s goals are to 1) increase consumer awareness about FMs, 2) develop and promote MFMSW, and 3) analyze, publish, and share the results of the program. Work will begin in fall 2015, with a rollout to the markets in winter 2016, and the first MFMSW report in Aug-Sept 2016. The release of the 2017 MFMSW Annual Report will conclude the work. The project will encourage local foods consumption, improve the visibility of Maine markets, create advocacy tools, and increase consumer engagement with the farmers’ market community.