Meat, Dairy, & Eggs was a one-time program with the goal of improving access to locally produced meat, dairy, and egg products for low-income consumers. The program was designed and administered by Petaluma Bounty with funding from Sonoma County Agriculture and Open Space District. Meat, Dairy, & Eggs ran in the fall of 2021 and spring of 2022 at participating markets in the FM LIFE collaborative. This report summarizes the process, results, and lessons learned, with a publicly accessible program toolkit that we hope can be useful for future program applications.
Click here to view and download the report in PDF format.
Petaluma Bounty administers Farmers Market LIFE (Local Incentive for Food and Economy) — a consortium of four market organizations representing 15 farmers markets in Sonoma and Marin Counties — to administer Market Match and other income-based nutrition incentives. A noteworthy finding from a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) study investigating barriers and opportunities at farmers markets identified that CalFresh customers wanted a nutrition incentive program similar to Market Match to help make locally produced meat, dairy, and eggs more affordable. Market Match provides a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $10 or $20 depending on the market, for produce but not for animal-based protein. Similarly, farmers and ranchers surveyed at participating farmers markets wanted to participate in a nutrition incentive program that included additional products not eligible for Market Match. Based on these findings, Petaluma Bounty launched an ambitious extension to the Farmers Market LIFE/Market Match Program to include Meat, Dairy, and Eggs (MDE) nutrition incentives for CalFresh customers.
Meat, Dairy, & Eggs
Administered by Petaluma Bounty and funded by a one-time grant opportunity from the Sonoma County Agricultural Preservation and Open Space District’s (Ag and Open Space) Agricultural Support and Protection (ASAP) emergency matching grant, the Meat, Dairy, & Eggs (MDE) Program provided CalFresh customers with $40 in vouchers toward the purchase of meat, dairy, and eggs at participating farmers markets within Sonoma County.
Petaluma Bounty designed the program with input from the four Farmers Market LIFE member organizations: Agricultural Community Events Farmers Markets (ACEFM), Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Markets (SROCFM), Healdsburg Farmers’ Market, and Sebastopol Farmers’ Market. Additionally, the University of California Agriculture & Natural Resources (UC ANR) played an advisory role by providing input and expertise. Petaluma Bounty built upon protocols and knowledge cultivated through the Farmers Market LIFE/Market Match program and the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program. Currently, Market Match can be used for purchasing fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, and edible plant starts. The MDE Program helped to spread the benefit of nutrition incentives to agricultural producers who sell products that are not currently eligible for Market Match funds.
The MDE Program and vouchers were distributed in two rounds between November and December 2021 and May and June 2022. A bilingual (English and Spanish) toolkit was created with FAQs for vendors and customers (see Appendix C). Petaluma Bounty posted information in English and Spanish on a dedicated webpage, on social media channels, and through printed flyers. Petaluma Bounty also leveraged existing relationships with Calfresh outreach organizations to spread word of the program. Since this was the first attempt at this program in a limited time frame, and with consideration for utilization rates, vouchers were distributed directly at the markets on a first come, first served basis. In order to receive the booklet, customers had to show their EBT cards. Customers participating in the first round were not excluded from participating in the second round.
In total, 750 voucher booklets equating to $30,000 worth of benefits were distributed in batches of $40 to customers at farmers markets who use CalFresh with 500 voucher booklets distributed in round one and 250 voucher booklets distributed in round two. Of that, a total of $22,762 was redeemed, including $13,763 from round one and $8,999 from round two. Organizations managing multiple farmers markets were given the discretion to decide allocation within their organizations, and voucher distribution was allocated as follows: ACEFM 43%, Sebastopol Farmers’ Market 25%, SROCFM 24%, and Healdsburg Farmers’ Market 8%. ACEFM distributed booklets at Petaluma Walnut Park, Petaluma East Side, and Santa Rosa Community Farmers’ Markets (Wednesday and Saturday) during both rounds one and two, and a limited amount at Cotati Community Farmers Market during round two. SROCFM distributed at Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers’ Markets (Wednesday and Saturday), and a small amount at Russian River Farmers Market during round two.
For round one, voucher amount and allocation was determined by the size of the CalFresh customer base at each market (based on CalFresh and Market Match distribution). Round two distribution was determined after reviewing round one usage. Requirements for voucher distribution to farmers markets included (1) the market had to be open during November and December of 2021 or during May and June of 2022 (2) had to have at least one eligible MDE vendor. MDE vouchers were not distributed at markets if the market did not meet the two listed requirements.
The MDE Program was evaluated using a written survey for customers and vendors during the wrap-up of the second round of program implementation (May-June 2022). Customer and vendor surveys were provided in both English and Spanish. Written surveys and follow-up phone call discussions were also performed with farmers market managers after the program ended (December 2022 and January 2023). Market manager surveys were provided in English due to English being the first language of all survey respondents.
Survey questions were developed by Petaluma Bounty with input from UCANR with the intent of understanding how the program went, what could have been done better, as well as to help Petaluma Bounty articulate the value of the program and to understand the effectiveness in the bigger-picture goals of making farmers markets more inclusive and accessible.
Petaluma Bounty provided hard-copies of the customer and vendor surveys to market managers who distributed or asked customers/vendors to fill them out on the spot at participating markets. Each manager handed out the surveys while juggling other duties thereby resulting in an uneven mechanism of distributing and collecting responses. Sebastopol Farmers Market, for example, had respondents take the survey on the spot, at the market, thus resulting in a high response rate. Written survey responses were returned to Petaluma Bounty by market managers. A small number of vendors sent their responses by email to market managers, who forwarded them to Petaluma Bounty. All survey responses from customers, vendors, and market managers were voluntary.
Twenty-six vendors participated in the program and redeemed vouchers from customers. Of those participating, 11 survey responses were received: 10 in English, 1 in Spanish.
Of the 750 voucher recipients, 250 surveys were distributed to Market Managers resulting in 60 MDE customers providing written survey responses regarding their program experience and feedback, representing a response rate of 24%. Surveys were distributed in both English and Spanish; all survey responses were in English. Of the 60 completed surveys, 43 were from customers at the Sebastopol Farmers’ Market and 17 were from the other participating markets.
Four market managers were involved in the program, of those four, three were contacted for feedback from the following markets: ACEFM, Healdsburg Farmers’ Market, and SROCFM. Sebastopol Farmers’ Market was not contacted due to change in management and the new manager had not been present during the program.
The vouchers increased business for vendors and increased CalFresh customers’ access to protein with 82% of vendors stating that vouchers brought in new customers and that the vouchers helped their businesses financially (see Appendix A). More than half of customers stated that this program allowed them to (1) purchase a product to try for the first time, (2) purchase a greater quantity of product than they normally would purchase, and (3) purchase a product that they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased at the farmers market. The results from the customer surveys also show an increase in access to farmers markets with 43% of surveys showing that the vouchers allow them to come to the farmers market and 40% resulting that the vouchers allow them to purchase a product that they wouldn’t otherwise have purchased elsewhere (see Appendix B).
Feedback from market managers included that the vouchers were “easy to distribute to Calfresh recipients” and that “customers LOVED getting them. They were a great gift to those who got EBT.”
According to the results of the market manager surveys, areas that went well during the program included (1) Knowledge increased and ease of implementation became easier with the second round of program implementation due to familiarity, (2) 100% of market managers felt that they had enough support regarding voucher handout and distribution, and (3) Information was provided in English and Spanish was provided at the outset.
The customer surveys show that the majority of customers (80%) heard about the program through the farmers markets. Other customers heard about the program by word of mouth (8%) and through other sources (12%) including newsletters, CalFresh/EBT service providers, and caregivers. Market managers did not feel unduly burdened by the need for customer education and voucher distribution – one market manager felt that the ability to hand out vouchers helped create relationships with customers and another appreciated that they were given the ability to distribute the vouchers directly to eligible customers (compared to some other programs). This allowed the customers to get the vouchers in a timely manner, increase redemption rates, and the market managers felt assured that the customers were being well-served.
Overwhelmingly, 100% of vendor, customer, and market manager program participants would like to see the program continue because (1) it helps the businesses and vendors (2) It provides financial access to the farmers market (3) it helps stretch customers’ food budgets, especially for families with children (4) it improves food security (5) it helps the customer shop locally and (6) it provides nutritious and fresh food including humanely raised and organic meats.
While the overall feedback about the MDE Program was positive and enthusiastic, five vendors (45%) experienced challenges such as processing vouchers in sales transactions – one vendor had difficulty matching the voucher amount with the corresponding weight of their product, which created a time-consuming back and forth between vendor and customer. Other challenges noted included confusion over expiration dates and the market managers running out of money to redeem vouchers with. Feedback from customers included confusion over the variety of voucher denominations and disappointment over the exclusion of other proteins, such as nuts and seafood, as allowable purchases. One customer stated that they “couldn’t find a vendor at the market [who sold eligible products] that I could eat. Need more vendors with a wide diversity of products.”
According to the market managers, the vouchers’ expiration date proved to be a point of confusion for customers, vendors, and themselves. Voucher booklets were all printed and bound prior to the program launch in November 2021, with a December 31, 2021 usage deadline printed on each voucher. Due to printing cost restrictions and other program uncertainties, booklets from round one were used for round two, and a sticker with the round two deadline was affixed on the front cover page of each voucher booklet. Reportedly, the cover page frequently fell off and market managers assumed the responsibility of communicating the round two deadline to customers and vendors. One market manager reported that they hand-wrote the expiration date on each voucher – a time consuming process. A market manager reported that some vendors accepted expired vouchers beyond the round two deadline and that some customers expressed irritation over missing the round two deadline due to the confusion. It was also noted that the expiration date and the date for managers to submit redeemed vouchers were very close, and therefore it was hard to get everything redeemed in a timely manner, especially as some vendors turned in vouchers at the last minute.
Other challenges noted by the market managers included: (1) ineligible vendors occasionally accepted vouchers and attempted to redeem them (2) some customers received more than one set of vouchers during one round (3) communication about program launch and program extension proved to be confusing and/or lacking and (4) lack of seafood being included as an eligible protein.
Anticipating the amount of money needed and having enough on hand for all of the different voucher redemptions were common themes of stress from all of the market managers. The foremost concern from market managers is the issue of safety and potentially being a target due to reliably having money on hand at the markets. Various voucher programs running concurrently means that vendors are often cashing out a large sum in one day. During the MDE Program, market managers sometimes had to issue the money to vendors at a later date or at a different market under the same management. Most vendors were amenable to waiting for the money.
Opportunities for Improvements
Vendor insights were provided on how the program could be improved, including: (1) easing the transaction for vendors, such as streamlining cash redemption and expiration dates (2) further promoting the program.
Areas in which the customers provided insight for program improvement included (1) include further education about the program, how it benefits the vendor and economy, and about food, (2) include more types of proteins in the program, such as nuts and fish and (3) continue and/or increase frequency of the program.
Market Managers’ suggested improvements included: (1) Increase communication channels: provide more information and context prior to program rollout and further education for vendors to help the vendors understand who is eligible for voucher purchases (2) Create a shared Google Document for market manager utilization to track customer usage (3) Either eliminate voucher expiration dates or provide more information about voucher extensions in the form of a flier or postcard along with freshly stamped expiration dates on vouchers– it was suggested to provide the market managers with a stamp so that they could stamp each booklet with new expiration dates (4) Allow for more time for market managers to submit all required documentation (5) Include seafood as an eligible protein.
Regarding the issue of having enough money on hand for market managers to redeem vendors, one market manager suggested that in the future, voucher programs could specify a window of redeemability for the vendors to submit vouchers to market managers, and for the market managers to subsequently turn in all vouchers to the program administrators. This will ensure that the vendors do not cash out all of their vouchers in a single transaction at the end of the program, providing some breathing room for market managers
Program Administrator Feedback
Feedback was also gathered from Masako Watanabe and Suzanne Grady, the administrators of the MDE Program at Petaluma Bounty. Their feedback showed that there are parallels between what the program administrators experienced and what the vendors, customers, and market managers experienced.
Essential lessons learned include
- The importance of resourcing for the workload
- The importance of early and continuous communications both internally and externally.
Administrators reported that the program planning and rollout were delayed due to staff turnover and resource constraints. Time and resources were stretched throughout the pre-program implementation with (1) translation needs for multiple educational documents, flyers, and social media graphics (2) voucher design, printing, and distribution involving multiple stakeholders (3) communications approval, distribution, channels, and reach. It would have been beneficial to identify resources early on and set a decision-making process taking into account resources and timeliness.
The resourcing issue not only caused delays to the program rollout but had a cascading effect on market managers and customer awareness. One market manager noted confusion over the program rollout timing. The lack of early rollout of marketing and communications, such as press releases and partner outreaches, caused a lack of program awareness in the community at large.
While program information was announced on multiple platforms owned by Petaluma Bounty and participating markets, and Petaluma Bounty leveraged existing networks in an effort to further spread news of the program, communications did not reach far and wide. This could be attributed to the lack of news coverage and due to an abbreviated timeframe between the issuing of a press release and program launch. Many digital and hard-copy media require weeks if not months of lead time between publication of program notices. Because the MDE program required fine-tuning until just before program launch, the news release did not meet the deadline for many publications, thus blunting its effectiveness. Lessons learned include submitting program information to publications early, even if it lacks full details. Additionally, an advertising budget could have proven useful in widening audience reach, as owned social media proved to be limiting.
Another tactic administrators considered in spreading word of the program was to partner with service organizations to distribute the vouchers. Due to program rollout timing and staffing constraints, this was not practical for round one. Administrators discussed the option with market managers for round two but were dissuaded due to the limited number of voucher booklets available and the desire for high redemption rates. Market managers could be onboard with the idea if this program, or a similar incentive program, is to run in the future.
Administrators noted another challenge that aligns with an issue mentioned by a market manager: record keeping. Market managers who participated in MDE are used to handling the Market Match program, which they’ve managed for years. For Market Match, markets are reimbursed for distribution while MDE reimbursement was for vendor redemption. One market manager had difficulty understanding the difference of record keeping for this voucher program versus other programs and was negatively affected by the record-keeping process. Administrators noted that market-level record keeping overall was not as methodical in round two as it was in round one, possibly due to the market season being more robust during round two.
Flyer for Round Two used the word, “Extended” instead of “Round 2.”
Balancing a consideration for locally owned businesses, cost, and program execution was also a challenge noted by administrators. Despite a slightly higher financial cost, Petaluma Bounty utilized a local printing business for MDE voucher booklets and informational handouts. To keep within budget, Petaluma Bounty then decided to print vouchers in black and white, which in hindsight may have led to confusion amongst customers, vendors, and market managers handling vouchers in an outdoor variable environment with multiple distracting factors. Petaluma Bounty continues to see the importance of supporting local businesses and the local economy and a need to consider lessons learned with any future programming without sacrificing that consideration. A possible solution would be to drastically differentiate the voucher designs by denominations or keep vouchers all to the same denomination.
Despite the challenges experienced, the overall enthusiasm and teamwork that went into this extraordinary project spoke of its success and future potential. Masako Watanabe spoke of the “collaboration and strong working relationships with Market Managers – they were very supportive and wanted to make it work, despite any challenges that were experienced was a positive that came out of it. We also have the framework set for future rollouts.”
Recommendations for Future Program Administration
Design and Framework
The MDE Program had a valuable impact on not just the customers and vendors, but also on supporting our local economy and agriculture. The grant was largely a response to the hardships caused by COVID-19 and the need to support our local farmers. This was the first time that Ag and Open Space had operated such a grant and partnered with Petaluma Bounty in a market voucher program. Due to the nature of such a fledgling partnership and project, the initial program design and planning stage was time consuming. The true vision and direction of the grant and impact blossomed as conversations continued. Now that this project was successfully developed and implemented, and feedback was garnered from the stakeholders, Petaluma Bounty strongly believes that a framework has been created for future projects. “Starting up a new nutrition incentive takes a lot of training, education, and consideration of the frameworks and templates. Now that a framework is created, we can implement a similar program quickly and efficiently. We are poised and ready to do it again and even better” (Suzanne Grady, Petaluma Bounty).
The partnerships developed because of the MDE Program has opened up conversation for exploring new sources of funding and collaborations.The partnership with Ag and Open Space was highly beneficiary due to the fact that it involved and benefitted many stakeholders – this program came as a response to more than just the health of an individual, but as a response to the health of the community and the health of the local economy. This partnership highlights the fact that a holistic and well rounded approach to funding and partnerships is beneficial to the health of our community as a whole, and future funding and partnerships can also be viewed in such a light.
In the future, as new nutrition incentive programs are launched, considerations should be included toward developing new distribution channels or outlets in order to bring in new CalFresh customers to farmers markets, thereby making local products more accessible to the community. Included within the query of how to bring in customers to markets, it should also be questioned whether new customers can be tied to redemption rates and if so, how to achieve that.
Additional reflections lead us to also consider how to produce ongoing relationships with the vendor and to share visions of future success. Within this thought, we must look at how we explain ongoing intentions, how success is defined, and how much of success is tied to voucher redemption rate versus new market customers, or perhaps a combination of the both.
Overall, survey respondents and Petaluma Bounty wish to see the program continue and on a more frequent basis. The customers reported being satisfied, happy, and thankful for the program. One vendor succinctly stated that “Everyone deserves access to quality and local nutritious food” – a simple but powerful statement of the whole underlying message of such a program. Feedback from market managers showed that they felt the program had a positive impact toward supporting their vendors and customers, with statements such as: “It encourages the customers to shop for locally sourced proteins that are higher quality than those you find in the grocery store. Something that would normally be out of reach for them” and “The program reinforces our goal of supporting local agriculture, highlighting our local ranchers and assisting those with food insecurity to purchase healthy food.” Suzanne Grady noted that the “Network of CalFresh Outreach got so excited about something that they can share to their clients that can increase their household food budget, particularly for farmers markets’ products and high quality proteins – something that they are lacking in their current programs. Involving them in the future is something that we can rely upon.”
Sarah Bellak, Intern, Petaluma Bounty
Suzanne Grady, Director, Petaluma Bounty
Julia Van Soelen Kim, North Bay Food Systems Advisor, UC Cooperative Extension
Masako Watanabe, Nutrition Incentive and Communications Coordinator, Petaluma Bounty
Maria Wnorowski, Education and Engagement Coordinator and Farmers’ Market Ambassador Coordinator, Petaluma Bounty