About two years ago, I learned that Baltimore’s farmers markets were not able to accept
Independence Cards, or SNAP benefits. Other communities in Maryland and around the country were putting this program in place and I was stunned that Baltimore was not one of them. With 25% of our residents receiving SNAP benefits, it was a big missed opportunity.
At the same time, Wholesome Wave wanted to expand the work it was doing elsewhere
and bring the program here. I contacted Maryland Hunger Solutions to ask if they would be interested in launching the EBT program. After they did some research, they became enthusiastic about doing the work but of course they would need funding to get the project started. They needed to train market managers, purchase EBT machines and tokens, create marketing materials, and attract new clients to the markets. My Board of Directors does not tend to fund the full cost of projects, so I asked Beth Harber at the Abell Foundation if she would entertain a proposal. You already know the end to this story – both the Weinberg and Abell Foundations, along with Wholesome Wave, put in seed funding to get the program started and have continued support for the second year.
On September 10, 2011 the Undersecretary for the Food and Nutrition Service of the US Department of Agriculture, Kevin Concannon, visited Baltimore City’s Waverly Market to recognize it and promote the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance
Program (SNAP) benefits in the market. I was invited to speak at this event because of the Weinberg Foundation’s role in bringing the program to Baltimore.
I can tell you that the Weinberg Foundation makes some large grants – in the millions of dollars. Of the many grants that I have managed in my three years at the Foundation, this is one of the smallest and one that makes me the most proud. I want to thank Maryland Hunger Solutions and the Market Managers for the amazing work they have done to bring this project to fruition. It is much more complicated to implement than you might think, and they have figured out how to make it work. I also want to thank USDA for its
commitment to this program nationally. I shop at this market, as I live a few miles away, and I am so thrilled that many more people in our city also have access to fresh, locally grown, healthy foods as a result of this effort.”
The Johns Hopkins Center for Liveable Futures has been conducting surveys of people who are using their Independence Cards at three Baltimore markets. A total of 234 people have been surveyed, and the findings have been encouraging. Some of the findings are:
- Greater than one-half of respondents stated that it was either difficult or very
difficult to get fruits and vegetables in their neighborhoods.
- Less than one-third of respondents believed that high quality produce was available
and affordable in their neighborhood.
- The majority of respondents claimed to have increased market attendance since
knowing SNAP benefits are accepted. Several did not attend the market before
the EBT program was introduced.
- Respondents spent an average of $23 in benefits at the market (on the day they were surveyed).
- The majority of respondents said their intake of fruits and vegetables increased
because of shopping at the farmers market.
The bottom line is that the EBT program benefits local families by improving their access to fresh produce, and it also benefits local farmers by bringing new clientele into the market. The Weinberg Foundation has supported this program with two Maryland Small Grants, for a total of $34,500. We think this is good bang for the buck!