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Farmers' markets reach out to net food stamps


Retail promotions help overcome price concerns of buyers


By PATTY MAMULA


For the Capital Press


PORTLAND -- Experience has shown that shoppers often hesitate to use their food stamps and other benefits at farmers' markets because of the higher prices.


But several farmers' markets have found a way to overcome that objection. They offer matching dollars -- up to $5 -- for food stamp customers. The food stamp program is also known as SNAP, an acronym for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.


New Seasons Market, a Portland grocery store chain, helps fund many of the matching programs, as do neighborhood foundations and other community groups.


"SNAP use at the King market in northeast Portland increased because of the matching program," said Rosemarie Cordello, president of the Portland Farmers' Market Board.


In 2009, the first year of the market, SNAP spending rose from $2,000 to $3,000 a month. From May through September this year, SNAP spending averaged $6,000 a month, she said.


Cordello said SNAP customers are the most loyal. They normally represent around 5 percent of the total shoppers. On rainy, unpleasant days, they represent 15 to 20 percent of the total.


The Buckman, Hollywood, Moreland and the Lents International markets participated in matching SNAP programs and reported significant increases in total SNAP sales, Cordello said.


Helping farmers' markets and their customers take advantage of federal nutrition benefits was the focus of the recent National Association of Farmers' Market Nutrition Programs conference.


Presentations emphasized ways to encourage use of USDA benefits at markets.


Nationally for 2010, the Women, Infants and Children -- WIC -- and senior programs were appropriated $20 million and $20.6 million, respectively. For Oregon, the amount was $1.1 million.


A fruit and vegetable addition to WIC, which allows participants to use vouchers at grocery stores as well as farmstands and markets, amounts to about $600 million annually. For Oregon, the benefit is around $8.6 million.


Cordello said shoppers at neighborhood markets often walk or bike to the market and frequently buy close to a week's worth of groceries.


The Portland Saturday market at Portland State University, the largest in the state, brings in $6.5 million in sales with more than 15,000 shoppers on market day and 150 vendors with a long waiting list. It is a destination market that attracts people from throughout the city.


Transportation can be an obstacle. To reach out to the seniors in their neighborhood, the Hollywood, Moreland and Lents markets offered free van rides on a weekly scheduled basis.


Eliza Davenport, manager of the Lents market, said they had low ridership and did not continue the program this year.


Many markets require all vendors to accept the WIC and senior nutrition vouchers.


"We haven't had any resistance to this requirement," said Sarah Broderick of the Hollywood market. "We looked at ways to make the market more accessible for seniors. We teach people how to use the SNAP card. We also brought the market to homebound seniors through personal shoppers and through donated food bags as part of the gleaning program."


They have also made seating more senior friendly and partnered with the nearby senior center and invited more senior-focused community organizations to participate.



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