July 1, 2022 — The Florence Farmers Market, hosted next to the Veteran’s Memorial Park in Historic Old Town Florence, hosts an assortment of farm stands every Tuesday afternoon. Shoppers walk around with arms and bags full of produce: radishes, lettuce, carrots, mushrooms, pickles, leafy greens and more. Views of the Siuslaw River and the coastal dunes peek through the pop-up tents.
All of the vendors selling at the market are local, and grow and produce food within the State of Oregon, and within 100 miles of Florence. Unlike the produce found at the standard chain grocery store, the selection of fruits, vegetables and herbs available is based on the state’s growing season.
Shopping at a farmers market can be a very nourishing and life-giving experience for people, said Molly Notarianni, the executive director of Double Up Food Bucks Oregon.
Markets give buyers the chance to interact directly with the people who are growing their food, which is lost when food is shipped and distributed across the country, or even internationally.
The produce sold at farmers markets is also significantly fresher.
According to the Oregon Farmers Market Association, the average time from harvest to sale is only half a day at local markets, compared to 13 days at traditional chain retailers.
This means that produce bought at the farmers market can stay fresher after purchase for longer, an observation that Lia Rousset, manager of the Florence Farmers Market, has been told by frequent shoppers.
Even with the benefits, shopping locally can come with a higher price tag than chain retailers, which can make the experience less accessible for lower income individuals. The Double Up Food Bucks program, supported by the Florence Farmers Market, tries to bridge the financial gap with buying local produce for individuals receiving SNAP benefits.
“It’s just crazy, but it’s the way that our agricultural system is set up in this country,” Notarianni said. “Because of agricultural subsidies and a whole host of other practices that are tied to structural racism and oppression, it is often more expensive to buy local food directly from a grower than it might be to buy at a grocery store.”
Lane County alone had 50,680 food insecure people in 2019, equal to 13.6% of the population, according to data from Feeding America, a rate which has risen over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is a federal program that provides monthly assistance for lower-income and households and individuals to buy food through EBT cards. In Oregon, this is through the Oregon Trail card.
SNAP is used statewide in an average of 377,502 households and by an average of 635,485 individuals monthly, according to the SNAP State Activities Report in 2020.
With Double Up, SNAP funds can be, like the name says, doubled at any eligible farmers market or grocery store when buying fruits, vegetables, beans, herbs or any food-growing plants. Through the market's info booth, the EBT card is swiped for any amount up to the $20 daily limit and $2 paper cards are given in return. Spend $8, for example, and get eight $2 cards, for a total allowance of $16.
The Florence Farmers Market typically sees around 450 people each week, but Rousset estimates that 20 to 26 people use the Double Up program, making it one of the more successful small-scaled markets in the state, she said.
Despite the success of the program so far, market staff mention the importance of getting the word out to more of the SNAP users who could benefit.
“There are many people and folks in Florence who are on some kind of assistance, whether that's because they're an elderly population and or from families that are just lower resourced,” Rousset said. “So this program just ends up being very, very valuable.”
As the market manager, Rousset’s job involves, in large part, making sure that the program is running smoothly, making sure that shoppers are able to get produce and that the farmers are paid afterward.
Programs like Double Up are “the heart of our farmers market,” Rousset said.
The program is a “triple win,” Notarianni said.
First, it makes fresh produce more affordable and more accessible for the people using SNAP. “It’s a chance for people, no matter what their income, to be able to eat healthy,” said Maggie Bagon, who works with the program in Florence. “It’s to encourage people to eat healthy because, of course when you eat healthy, you spend less time at the doctor’s office, you’re more productive at your job and it’s better for the communities.”
A federal study of Double Up found that, through the program, food insecurity of users decreased and there was a statistically significant increase in the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten, Notorianni said. Providing access to local produce is both good for the community and physically healthy for individuals.
Second, the program supports local farmers, who still receive the entirety of their proceeds. In comparison, only about $0.15 from every dollar spent at grocery stores goes back to the farmers, the Oregon Farmers Market Association stated.
It is important to the Double Up program to support the small/medium sized farmers who “aren’t necessarily in it for the money,” Notarianni said.
The program also received feedback from farmers that the doubling incentive drew in new shoppers who have since become regular customers and faces around the market.
Third, Double Up keeps spending within the local community, as opposed to through chain grocery stores. Farmers markets are also “small business incubators,” according to the Oregon Farmers Market Association.
In its 2020 census report, over half the vendors at rural farmers markets are brand-new entrepreneurs with less than three years of experience.
Double Up Food Bucks has been a part of the Florence Farmers Market since it first began in 2018. While the application to accept SNAP can be a “fairly onerous federal process,” especially for the small and up-and-coming markets, Notarianni said, Double Up offers training programs and email forums to markets to keep up with any bumps in the road.
Across Oregon, there are currently 96 in-person farmers markets registered with the Oregon Farmers Market Association and Double Up has 78 partnerships, including some local grocery stores, across 25 counties.
Double Up has also committed to the $20 daily limit, an expansion from the $10 daily limit, which was made possible through a federal grant. The change came from user feedback that it made the program significantly more worthwhile, as the previous system wasn’t always worth the time commitment and money spent on gas.
The Florence Farmers Market, through Double Up, has matched SNAP purchases up to $20 for the past two years.
For more information on the local market, stop by from 3 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and visit florencefarmersmarket.org.