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A way to help others eat fresh, local food

Thanks to a program that kicked off in 2009 in Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg-area residents who receive federal food assistance benefits, known as SNAP benefits or food stamps, have been able to spend those benefits at three area farmers markets, and receive a match of up to $10 a week for every dollar they spend at the market.

So far this year, that program has led local families to spend about $15,700 in SNAP benefits with local farmers at markets. Those families have leveraged that money to access more than $10,000 in additional food dollars through the matching funds.

The match came from a federal grant that is about to run out, and will not be renewed next year, so managers at the Spotsylvania, Fredericksburg and King George farmers markets are turning to the community for help.

Their “Nourish Our Neighbors” program asks individuals, businesses, groups and anyone else to consider making donations–large or small–to help continue providing matching funds to SNAP customers through the end of the year. As of now, those matches are set to run out Oct. 1.

Fredericksburg Farmers Market Manager Gayle Price said the matching money provides a double benefit to the local economy–it helps those in need buy more nourishing foods, and it helps local farmers make a living.

“Ten dollars covers one whole family’s benefit match for a week,” Price said, adding that all donations will go straight to SNAP customers, and none to overhead or administrative costs.

You can make donations online here. All three markets will hold a donation drive this Saturday, to coincide with Gov. Bob McDonnell’s “Day of Service.” Visit the market manager tent at your market to donate.

Market officials say their data show that 67 percent of the SNAP expenditures at the markets are on fresh fruits and vegetables, as opposed to local meats, baked goods and other food items offered.

Spotsylvania Market Manager Elizabeth Borst, who spearheaded the SNAP matching program in this area, said she’s collected testimonials from many of the residents who have benefitted from the program.

She said one woman brings her father, who is diabetic, to the market each week.

“In her lifetime, she did not remember him ever eating fruits and vegetables that were not from a can,” Borst said. Another woman who comes each week has lost weight by incorporating more fresh foods in her diet.

“Tons of people bring their kids,” Borst said. “It’s pretty neat to see how it has taken off.”

But it will take community support to keep the program going.

“Our goal is to keep it running through the end of the year at this level,” she said. “This is a very direct way to help community health.”