Market success in a SNAP-shot! Hear stories of resilience from on-the-ground market managers who offer Double SNAP Dollars at their market—a program where SNAP recipients double their benefits on fresh, local food!
July, 8 2021 By Aly Reynolds
Community members arrive at the Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market with empty bags and hearts ready to be filled with a sense of community. Vendors greet familiar customers and introduce themselves to new ones, children skip throughout the market in search of scavenger hunt items, and live music fills the air as shoppers stock up on fresh produce. The market is situated in South Billings, where access to local fruits and vegetables is limited. Representing over a decade of collaboration between hospitals, the health department, and other community partners, the Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market works to “make the healthy choice the easy choice” in Yellowstone County.
Behind the Gardeners’ Market, three women, along with many community partners, work hard to make the market a success. Market Manager Eden Sowards, Coalition Manager Melissa Henderson, and Fiscal Coordinator Keely Ehmann took time out of their busy days to talk with the Community Food & Agriculture Coalition—giving us a behind the scenes look at the market!
Food Access Programs
The market focuses on making local food accessible to everyone. Offering food access programs such as SNAP (formerly known as food stamps), Double SNAP Dollars, WIC Farm Direct, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Coupons, as well as working to improve the market’s ADA accessibility, allows even more community members to enjoy local produce and support local growers. “People are very excited about all our payment options, and our community partners are always excited to share these resources with their community,” Eden explains. These strong community partnerships form the fabric of the market: the Adult Resource Alliance attends the market on certain days and informs community members about eligibility for the Senior Coupons, the WIC department distributes WIC Farm Direct checks right at the market, Nutrition Educators sign market-goers up for their incentivized SNAP cooking classes, and the market information booth is a hub of information for the SNAP and Double SNAP Dollars program. In this one central location, market attendees can receive a wealth of information on food access programs! Keely processes SNAP and Double SNAP transactions at the information booth, and she shares how “customers are always surprised and excited when I tell them about the Double SNAP match—it brings customers back each week to spend even more on local produce!”
With nearly $350 spent through food access programming each week alongside credit and cash sales, the market was able to circulate over $24,000 into the local economy over the course of the 2020 market season! 9 in 10 customers also reported they were more likely to eat 5 daily servings of fruit and vegetables because they attended the market. This success occurred despite the challenges brought on by Covid-19. “The pandemic led to a lot of innovation,” Melissa expresses. “We were so grateful that the Governor declared farmers’ and gardeners’ markets as essential services. It allowed us to be one of the first events in Yellowstone county, and being a collaboration between the same partners that were trying to curb the pandemic, we were able to model best practices.” Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market shared these practices widely, helping other public events open with safe practices such as creating barriers for social distancing and monitoring mask wearing. The majority of customers shared that these protocols made them feel safer while shopping at the market.
Two of the biggest challenges the market faced, however, was the impact the pandemic had on fostering community and engaging seniors in food access—both of which are major focal points for the market. The pandemic made it very difficult for seniors to be in public spaces, and the market had to discourage crowds gathering and lingering at the market. “It was really contrary to the community feel of the market that we always strive for,” Eden shares. Despite these setbacks, the market collaborated with community partners to pilot a senior food box program, delivering produce directly to seniors. They also witnessed customers continuing to support the market despite the regulations of “get in and get out.” “The community we’ve fostered over the years helped our market, people were committed to shopping there even under different protocols,” Melissa explains.
Now going on their fourth market day this 2021 season, the market has seen a return of that thriving community feel. Vendors are able to connect more with their customers: “Vendors really care about improving the health of our community and have a passion for the produce they sell, and we get a lot of returning vendors because they love the community atmosphere we provide,” Eden shares. “There are a lot of happy customers and a lot of happy vendors!” Community partners are also able to continue fun activities at the market, such as crafts, educational exercises, and live music, inviting community members to enjoy both the produce and the neighborly atmosphere.
Melissa paints a clear image of the Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market: “You might leave the market with radishes and leafy greens, but you’re also leaving with a tuned up bicycle, or a fun craft that the Master Gardeners helped you make—a sense of community really.”
The Healthy By Design coalition exists through the hard work and collaboration of the Billings Clinic, St. Vincent Healthcare, RiverStone Health, and many other community partners. The Healthy By Design Gardeners’ Market is the longest running, and one of many, Healthy By Design initiatives. The market is grateful for the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program in funding their programming, allowing them to continue this vital work in their community. View the market’s 2020 impact report here, and more information on the market here.
When the world shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to food pantries and assistance programs to make ends meet. It wasn’t just the toilet paper that disappeared: it was our jobs, our families, and our safety nets. When it came to food, people had no choice but to take matters into their own hands. They sought out more direct forms of access at farmers markets and farm stands, and started their own gardens, whether in backyards, patios, or apartment windows.
But what many people don’t know is that SNAP benefits can help bridge the gap between relying on the store and relying on yourself! Since 1973, SNAP participants have been allowed to purchase garden seeds and plants that produce food for human consumption.
Seeds for producing edible plants and starter plants. This includes things like spinach seed, tomato seedlings, and even fruit trees!
Edible food producing roots, bushes, and bulbs. This includes things like seed potatoes, blueberry bushes, asparagus crowns, and onion bulbs.
Seeds and plants used to produce spices for use in cooking. This includes herbs like cilantro and basil seeds and plants.
One challenge might be finding a store that sells seeds and plants and also accepts SNAP benefits. You can use this SNAP retailer locator to find a local store in your community that accepts SNAP. Many grocery stores sell seeds and also have pop-up greenhouses in the spring and summer. Check with them to see if they accept SNAP benefits and when they plan to do their plant sale.
Or, better yet, if you have a farmers market in your community that accepts SNAP, plan a visit when the market is open in early spring to find tons of locally-grown bedding plants. Abundant Montana has a searchable directory of farmers markets across Montana and you can narrow your search using SNAP/EBT as a filter. Many of these markets also accept Double SNAP Dollars. Double SNAP will match your EBT spending up to $20 per day at participating markets, allowing you to stretch your budget further and buy food for today and plants that will provide for weeks to come. Find a Double SNAP Dollars farmers market today and start planning your garden shopping trip!
When visiting a farmers market, tap into the knowledge of a local farmer to get advice about which varieties grow best in your climate, how to plant and care for them, and when to harvest the bounty. If you don’t have a farmers market and are buying plants at the store, you can contact your county’s Master Gardener Program. Or, check out free written gardening guides from Montana State University Extension. They publish MontGuides on everything from growing tomatoes in Montana to harvesting and saving your own seed.
Market success in a SNAP-shot! Hear stories of resilience from on-the-ground market managers who offer Double SNAP Dollars at their market—a program where SNAP recipients double their benefits on fresh, local food!
March 3, 2021 By Aly Reynolds
In this installment of Market Success SNAPshots, we caught up with Samantha O’Byrne—founder of the Hamilton nonprofit The O’Hara Commons—about the huge success of her newly added online Local Foods Market. “We designed this market to be like a local foods grocery store experience,” Samantha explains, as vendors provide a variety of produce, meats, baked goods, and dairy products. Customers drive up every Thursday to be hand-delivered goods they purchased online. Alternately, customers can shop at the storefront Sunday through Wednesday, giving the community plenty of opportunity to do their week’s grocery shopping. Since opening in October, the market has seen on average 70 orders a week and $44,200 in gross sales!
The online Local Foods Market began out of plans to expand on the already existing Wednesday Afternoon Farmers Market, which operates from June through September. Samantha and her team had plans in place to add a winter market to follow the summer market, increasing local food access to her community year-round. However, Covid-19 hit and caused plans to shift at the O’Hara Commons. Samantha and her team transitioned to planning for an online model, and they eventually secured funding to install a walk-in fridge to make this model possible.
Despite the setbacks and difficult year, The O’Hara Commons saw huge success in both their Wednesday Afternoon Market and eventually in the opening of their online market. The Wednesday Afternoon Market opened with strict Covid-protocols to keep everyone healthy. “Rather than this having a negative effect on our attendance, in 2020 we saw our foot traffic almost double over the previous season!” Samantha also shared that community members would often line up an hour in advance, with up to 40 people waiting in line.
The support from the community was further displayed in the opening of the online Local Foods Market, as 350 customers are now registered with the online platform. “I have been in this community since 1998. I ran a garden shop for 13 years and then expanded it into what the O’Hara Commons is today. I know a lot of people in the community because of this. However, of the 350 customers, I only know half of them. So it’s really opened up to a new audience,” Samantha reports.
SNAP participants are among this audience served through the market. Samantha has seen the number of SNAP participants nearly double since offering an online market in conjunction with the summer market. The O’Hara Commons also proudly offers Double SNAP Dollars (DSD), where SNAP participants can double their benefits on fresh, local produce. “The extra food that we have been able to get into the community through DSD has been amazing. And people are always shocked when I tell them we match their SNAP benefits up to $20, giving them the opportunity to purchase even more vegetables.” Samantha explains how the online platform has been a huge success for her customer base, making it a convenient way to access local foods year-round.
To ensure the online market’s success, Samantha sought out mentorship from near and far. She reached out to a group that attempted to establish a local food co-op in Hamilton, and they shared with her their lessons learned. A google search also connected Samantha with Red Hills Farm Alliance in Florida, who have been operating an online market for over 10 years. She is so grateful to all the mentorship she received from these individuals; it gave the market extra support to get off the ground. “We didn’t throw all this time and resources at it to watch it fail. We sought out this mentorship to help us do it right, to help it be sustainable.”
Sustainability has been a major focus of the online Local Foods Market. All growers were given the guarantee that the online market will be functioning through March of 2022. “This guarantee is to give them the safeguard and security that we will be a venue for them, and they can plan for a bigger season if they want to, knowing they have us to depend on,” Samantha expresses. The market is happy to provide a year-round service to its growers, helping them build a stronger network of customers to depend on.
The online Local Foods Market is a win for growers and customers alike. The market’s success is a snapshot of a community coming together to build a more resilient local food economy in Hamilton, Montana.
The O’Hara Commons and Sustainability Center strives to connect local people to local food. Along with operating local farmers markets, they provide educational programming for all ages through demonstration gardens and resource sharing. The O’Hara Commons is grateful to their many partners for making the online Local Foods Market possible, such as the Ravalli County Economic Development Authority, BitterrootValley.org (Cobey Williamson), and the City of Hamilton.
November 10, 2020 – The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) announced a $27.9M investment toward encouraging low-income families to purchase healthy food this week. The Missoula-based Community Food and Agriculture Coalition (CFAC) is one of 30 organizations nationwide to receive this funding. CFAC will receive $500,000, given through the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), to expand equity and food access through the statewide Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) program that CFAC has been administering since 2015. Each dollar will be matched by 1:1, resulting in a total of $1M toward the program over the next four years.
Since 2015, the DSD program has served over 6,400 customers, leading to increased fresh fruit and vegetable consumption by SNAP customers. During that time, $500,000 has been spent through the DSD program on local foods, boosting Montana farmers’ income.
The Double SNAP Dollars (DSD) program doubles individual’s SNAP benefits for fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets. 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.
Currently DSD is being offered at 26 sites across Montana: 22 farmers markets, two CSAs, one farm stand, and one grocery store. Three farmers markets in Missoula, Bozeman and Hamilton and Camas Organic Market in Hot Springs will offer DSD this winter. This new funding will focus on sustaining the DSD network through 2024 and will bolster opportunities for pilot programs in rural and Native communities in addition to several retail grocery locations. Sites will be equitably distributed across the state, creating more and easier access points to extra fruits and vegetables and generating more income for Montana’s local farmers year-round.
“Nutrition incentives are a win-win for everyone involved.” Ian Finch, the food access programs manager at the Coalition, explained. “They’re a win for low income families who can access more nutritious food, a win for local businesses and a win for our local farmers who are able to sell more produce to more members of the local community.”
CFAC established the Double SNAP Dollars Network, a statewide coalition of 12 organizations, that helps to set the priorities and direction of the DSD program each year. The Network includes National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), Farm Hands – Nourish the Flathead, Rocky Mountain Tribal Leaders Council, Montana Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes Tribal Health Department, Rural Dynamics, Inc., Montana Food Bank Network, MSU Extension Nutrition Education Program, Hi-Line Kitchen Processing and Garden Center, Fort Peck Community College Wellness Center, American Heart Association/American Stroke Association, Kalispell Regional Healthcare, and Open and Local.
The GusNIP funding is incredibly helpful in Montana, yet the need for additional food assistance programs is growing during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Double SNAP Dollars Network is working to encourage additional investment from Montana State Legislature to fund expansion into more farmer’s markets and retail spaces. The Network will work with lawmakers during the upcoming legislative session to advance this goal and get nutritious food into more Montana SNAP households.
To do this, “We have initiated consultation with tribal members of Blackfeet Nation, the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation, and the Fort Belknap Indian Community, to explore objectives and discuss food sovereignty efforts already in motion among Native communities in Montana,” said Lauren Tobias, Wellness Director at Fort Peck Community College and DSD Network member. “We aspire to connect in a similar fashion with each tribe within Montana’s borders. Excitingly, we have just formalized a partnership between CFAC and Fort Peck Community College’s Good Health & Wellness in Indian Country program, a 5-year CDC grant-funded initiative. To kick off this partnership, we are preparing to hire a team of local food-systems leaders on the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, to examine together how the DSD Network can most appropriately stand with the ongoing efforts of the Fort Peck Tribes to self-govern their local food systems, while also supporting immediate access to healthy food and food security.”
CFAC will start work immediately identifying new rural and Native communities in Montana to work with and retail locations, farmers markets and other business owners to establish new Double SNAP Dollar (DSD) locations across the state.
As the COVID-19 pandemic leads our nation into the deepest economic contraction since 1947, people are left wondering how to put food on the table while 50 million jobs were lost and the price of consumer goods continues to rise. With the loss of income and the uncertainty of the future, people are turning to food pantries to make ends meet, with local food banks serving record numbers of households, and reports across the nation of people waiting in their cars for hours to pick up their food distributions.
To make matters worse, the pandemic is exposing structural inequities within the food system, where corporately owned, centralized food supply chains are unable to deliver healthy food options to food insecure families during a time of crisis. Farmers of all kinds lost restaurant and wholesale accounts, and opportunities to sell directly to consumers came into question as communities grappled with the best ways to keep people safe, while ensuring access to food and protecting local economies. Suddenly, everyone in the food system, from field to fork, needed to adjust, respond and turn chaos into opportunity.
Fortunately, Montana’s farmers market season is going strong, providing a critical source of revenue for Montana farmers and connecting residents to fresh, local foods. At the Community Food and Agriculture Coalition, we work to ensure that all Montanans have access to local food, coordinating the Double SNAP Dollars program and supporting the development of new markets across the state.
This summer, we are excited that families have the opportunity to shop at farmers markets with Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) food benefits. P-EBT is a one-time benefit available to families who lost access to free and reduced-price meals during COVID-related school closures last year. Families will receive $330 per eligible child on an EBT card that can be used to purchase food anywhere SNAP benefits are accepted — including many Montana farmers markets.
What’s more, P-EBT also qualifies for Double SNAP Dollars, allowing families to further leverage their dollars to help our local farmers. CFAC’s Double SNAP Dollars Program (DSD) matches SNAP and P-EBT benefits, dollar for dollar, up to $20 per day, at participating farmers markets across the state. Since inception in 2015, the DSD Program now serves nearly 6,000 Montanans and has recirculated over $450,000 to our local farmers, ranchers, and farmers markets. The best thing about the program is that there is no application. When a SNAP customer or P-EBT family visits a farmers market, all they need to do is visit the market booth, swipe their EBT card, and ask for the DSD match.
This program is slick because farmers markets are the backbone of the local food economy. In times of food insecurity, the nation’s 9,000 farmers markets provide producers and consumers a direct market channel to ensure that people get fed. When paired with SNAP and P-EBT, farmer’s markets can function as an even greater economic stimulus for local food producers.
In Montana alone, the 10% of our population that participates in SNAP receives around $12 million per month in food benefits, and this number is growing with P-EBT. Matched by Double SNAP Dollars, these programs can infuse the local food economy with millions of dollars through the 72 farmers markets across the state. To find a market near you that accepts EBT, visit www.doubledollarsmt.org. To learn more about P-EBT, visit www.montanameals.org.
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.