CalFresh Awareness Month looked different this year— but it was arguably more impactful than ever.
As Covid-19 has made traditional in-person outreach unsafe, we focused our efforts on two main initiatives: an online blog series and an increase in nutrition incentives at all FM LIFE farmers’ markets during the month of May. In this post, we’ll share the data-driven results of the latter effort.
Since farmers’ markets have been and still are operating as essential services during the pandemic, Petaluma Bounty raised the Market Match incentive level at all FM LIFE farmers’ markets to $20 for the month of May. Therefore, if someone spent $20 of CalFresh EBT at the farmers’ market, they received an extra $20 for a total of $40 to spend on local produce. We performed the same incentive increase in May 2019, which allows us to do a year to year comparison to get a stronger sense of the impact this effort had in our community.
Last year, there were increases across the board, most notably in Total CalFresh Distributed and Total Market March Incentives Redeemed from April to May 2019. As shown in FIgure 1 (below), these categories had a percent increase of 76.88% and 74.11% respectively, which can be attributed to the raised incentive amount in May. Although they might not seem as noteworthy, the roughly 30% increases in both New and Repeat Customers might also be correlated to more robust outreach and higher incentives during last year’s CalFresh Awareness Month.
These same trends were clearly demonstrated this year, but in even larger, often huge, percent increases. Below, Figure 2 shows the difference between April and May 2020, which is significant across all categories. Of course, the Covid-19 pandemic should be considered as at least a factor in these increases, as tragically, many more people have become unemployed and eligible for CalFresh or Pandemic-EBT in California. At the same time, it is incredible to see these large increases, especially in NEW Market Match customers, which increased by 258.82% from April to May 2020. This means people who might be new to CalFresh prioritized showing up and spending their CalFresh locally at farmers’ markets, which has been proven to directly benefit local economies, and in this case, these funds are going directly into the pockets of small farmers.
Finally, and perhaps most impactfully, Figure 3 shows the comparison between CalFresh Awareness Month in May 2019 and May 2020 to further highlight the impact and importance of this initiative, and how awareness, advocacy, and community support can benefit CalFresh customers and small farmers in Sonoma and Northern Marin Counties. Our data indicates that there was a 190.48% increase in NEW Market Match customers from last year, showing that perhaps now more than ever—regardless of income level and despite being in the midst of a global pandemic— people supported local and purchased nutrient-dense foods by spending their CalFresh dollars at farmers’ markets.
We deeply appreciate the hard work of the FM LIFE Market Managers, staff, farmers and all vendors who enable the Market Match program to continue making a positive, transformative impact in our community. We would also like to extend our gratitude to Redwood Empire Foodbank, Sonoma County 211, and the Sonoma County Human Services Department for their continued efforts in supporting our local community members to access CalFresh and other basic needs. Lastly, we would like to thank our amazing CalFresh customers for seeing the value of supporting their local farmers and economy during a time of unprecedented hardship for some many.