My first experience with farm fresh produce was at a little farmstand based on the honor system in my early teen years; I vividly remember going to buy summer squash on the way home and the joy that I had in cooking it with the knowledge that I had gotten it locally and it was benefiting a small farmer. That joy is something I have never moved away from during my life and I have been a life-long supporter of small farmers through shopping at farmers’ markets and being a CSA member at various farms as we moved around the country in my 20’s and early 30’s.
Five years ago I was introduced to Petaluma Bounty and Farmers’ Market LIFE through a non-profit administration internship. For those five years, I have been honored to be the Program Assistant and eventual Coordinator for our FM LIFE program, which seeks to increase the buying power of EBT customers at local farmers’ markets and increase the income of small farmers. This program has been my pride and joy through ups and downs as well as taking a brief leave of absence from the program when my family moved away for a bit.
As I transition out of this role and welcome Masako as the new Nutrition Incentive and Communications Coordinator, I wanted to provide a brief snapshot of where the program stands as we wrap up the data for the first half of the year.
For those that are not familiar with FM LIFE or Farmers’ Market LIFE (Local Incentive for Food and Economy), it is a Market Match program available in Sonoma and Marin counties that makes locally grown, fresh food more affordable to Calfresh (food stamp) customers. The program matches customers’ Calfresh benefits spent at local participating markets, dollar-for-dollar, up to $10 or $20 maximum, depending on the market. For each $1 that the USDA awarded, we secured $1 in funds or in-kind contributions. Thus, we truly could not do this work without the on-going contributions of local businesses, agencies, and contributors!
During the pandemic, we saw a large boom across our program as people realized that open air shopping could be healthier for them than being inside a grocery store as well as the desire to support small farmers during a hard time and the increase in pandemic and disaster related EBT across Sonoma County – due to COVID-19 and Fire Season.
That momentum has not slowed down in 2020 and I am happy to report the following numbers: In 2021, from January to June, we distributed $71,618 in Calfresh, $52,035 in Market Match, performed 3,529 transactions, with 260 new customers! This represents the following increases: 62.44% in Calfresh distributed, 57.63% in Market Match Distributed, 65.06% in transactions, and 22.07% in new customers!
Also, because 2020 was such a huge year of growth, I wanted to compare this back to our pre-pandemic numbers from January-June of 2019 and reflect a bit on the growth that has occurred since the pandemic; Calfresh distributed has increased by 136.52%, Market Match Distributed has increased by 112.64%, customer transactions have increased by 89.02%, with an increase of 111.38% in new customers.
So, what do all these numbers mean?
Every dollar is being used to increase consumption of healthy, local, and sustainably grown food by low-income community members, improve the economic viability of local farms, and reduce the distance and disconnect between consumers and farmers.
As I move on from this program and welcome our new coordinator, I want to personally thank all of our community partners who have helped fund our work; those who have worked with us to get the word out about the program; and those who are continually working with us to make markets more inclusive, welcoming, and culturally appropriate to a greater number of our neighbors.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart and please continue to support this incredibly important program by following along with our social media, utilizing the program, sharing the word with your neighbors, and fiscally supporting FM LIFE and Petaluma Bounty.