Celebrating National Farmers Market Week (Aug 2-8) with Increased Food Benefits

SNAP customers can “double-up” more than ever this year.

MISSOULA, MT – The Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) joins markets across Montana in celebrating National Farmers Market Week from August 2-8, 2020. This year, CFAC is celebrating both the resiliency and essential service that farmer’s markets provide bringing fresh, local and nutritious food to all Montanans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With advocacy and guidance from The Grow Montana Food Policy Coalition, the Governor’s Office deemed farmers markets as essential businesses because they provide much needed staple grocery items and agricultural products to consumers. Also, many farmers markets across the state accept SNAP, allowing low-income customers access to healthy, locally grown food.

CFAC helps SNAP customers stretch their benefits even further by administering the Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) program at farmers markets state-wide. For every $1 spent with a SNAP benefit card on fruits and vegetables, customers are matched another dollar $1 free in fruits and vegetables with DSD. Almost every market that offers DSD in Montana has increased their matching dollar amounts for SNAP customers this summer. The cap is usually $10 in SNAP benefits that can be matched, and now that amount has increased to up to $20 being matched.

As of the beginning of the 2020 farmers market season, Double SNAP Dollars is being offered at 26 sites across Montana: 22 farmers markets, two CSAs, one farm stand, and one grocery store. Since the DSD program began in 2015, over 6,000 customers have been served, leading to increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption.  During that time, $440,000 has been spent through the DSD program on local foods, boosting Montana farmers’ income.

“Farmers markets are essential to the lives and livelihoods of thousands of Montanans, both customers and farmers.” says Ian Finch, Program Coordinator at CFAC. “It takes the planning, organization, and execution of dedicated individuals and community organizations to not only make markets happen, but to ensure they allow access to fresh, local food to everyone in the community. That work has been harder than ever this year during the pandemic and farmers markets and the vendors who sell at them need all the help they can get.“

In order to keep farmers markets open and a safe destination for both customers and vendors during COVID-19, CFAC, in collaboration with the Western Montana Growers Coop (WMGC), received grant assistance from the national Gus Schumacker Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) to direct hand sanitizer being produced at Headframe Spirits in Butte to farmers markets and farms for free.

Finch said, “It truly takes a whole community and many dedicated people across sectors to come together during hard times like this to ensure basic human needs, like food access for all, can be met.”

Additionally, Montana recently received USDA approval to implement Pandemic-EBT (P-EBT), which provides food benefits to families who lost access to free and reduced-price school meals during the unanticipated school closures last school year. Most eligible families will receive benefits automatically, either on an existing SNAP card or, if they are not participating in SNAP, on a new Montana EBT card. P-EBT benefits can be redeemed anywhere that EBT cards are accepted, including farmers markets. P-EBT benefits are eligible for matching dollars through Double SNAP Dollars.

The public can participate in National Farmers Market week by attending their local market in person, placing an on-line farmers market order if available, visiting a new farmers market or supporting local or national organizations that provide resources to farmers markets. There are more than 70 farmers markets in Montana, according to the Montana Department of Agriculture, and many are opening with social distancing and increased sanitation practices in place. To find a Farmers Market near you visit AERO’s Abundant Montana Directory