Farm Bill Helps Farmers Markets

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Just having a Farm Bill as law is a relief to Heather Hymes. The manager of the Lansing City Market says the uncertainty surrounding the legislation left a lot of programs in limbo.

"Just having something that's in-place, law, ready to roll out is great for us," said Hymes. "So we kind of have some stability around those programs."

And now a little more stability comes to the people selling the things in her market. A new incentive, based on Michigan's Double-Up Food Bucks Program, will spread to farmers markets across the country now that the Farm Bill is law. The Great Lakes State has been enjoying it since 2009.

Hymes says it's helped her market bring in more customers.

"There's still kind of a slight mindset that farmers markets and City Markets are for a certain type of person and that it might be more expensive than they think that it is, but really it's not," she said. "We see a lot of traffic with people who might not usually feel welcome at a farmers market or that it's too expensive. They find that they have the money to be able to use on that. So it's fantastic."

Customers eligible for food stamps can have up to $20 of their purchase matched by the market, as long as they buy qualifying, locally-produced fruits and vegetables. It's a great deal for customers, farmers say, plus it puts a little more money in their pockets.

"It increases our sales because we get paid back from the double-up food bucks program," said Nan Jasinowski, co-owner of Sweet Season's Orchards in Concord. "It really does increase our sales because people want to buy all their fresh produce and get it home and the kids enjoy it and the moms are grateful to be able to have that."

It's a silver lining to the legislation for Lindsey Scalera, a grassroots organizer for Michigan Voices for Good Food Policy.

"There are some good programs that are new and are going to increase access even in this time of cutting," she said. "It's increased both healthy food access for folks who need it and would otherwise be able to get healthy food, as well as increasing income for local farmers. It's a double win."

But Hymes does expect a few small losses. She says cuts to the SNAP benefits -- estimated at more than $8 billion over ten years -- could decrease the number of customers.

"We're expecting to definitely see some sort of decrease in traffic and maybe not in traffic so much but maybe in the dollar amount that people get off their cards," said Hymes. "We'll probably see a little decrease in that with people choosing to buy in bulk, which we don't offer so much."

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