Photo Credit: Joshua L. Jones
The West Broad Farmers Market opened for its fifth season on May 5, and for the most part it was business as usual, except for one small but crucial change. The market is now partnering with Wholesome Wave to offer the Georgia Fresh for Less program to help low-income families in Athens buy fresh local produce.
The program—which has been available at the Athens Farmers Market for a few years now—has incentivized thousands of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to spend over $2 million on local produce since its start in 2009.
“It will help food stamp recipients purchase more fresh, local produce at half price,” says West Broad Farmers Market coordinator Tarsha Deadwyler.
The process is straightforward, says Deadwyler. Market visitors will swipe their EBT cards for a certain value and receive double the number of tokens to spend on fruits and vegetables grown by Athens-area farmers.
The market takes over the blacktop of the old West Broad Street School each Saturday in the growing season, offering easy access to residents of the Hancock Corridor. The location of the market is critical, says community agriculture manager Tex Bagley, because the neighborhood is considered a food desert where it’s generally harder to access fresh, affordable food.
Part of the mission of the West Broad Farmers Market is to expand access to healthy food, says Bagley, and the health benefits associated with access to fresh food make “a world of difference.”
“We want all of Athens to be coming to the farmers market, but also we want very much to increase access to the Hancock Corridor,” he says.
Farmers markets haven’t always been culturally or financially accessible to low-income communities. Adopting the Fresh for Less program, says Deadwyler, reduces the cost barrier and gives more residents an incentive to try the market-style way of purchasing fresh produce.
“You have three [public housing complexes] in that area, and the majority of people living in the housing authority are SNAP/EBT recipients, so we’re trying to encourage them to come out and utilize the market,” Deadwyler says. “Usually, if you come to that market once, you will come back.”
Some of the market vegetables can seem strange to first-time visitors, so the market has always hosted weekly cooking demonstrations, offering recipe cards and preparation ideas for items that may not be familiar to some shoppers.
“A lot of times in the community, we’re going to buy what we think is easy to prepare,” Deadwyler says. “If we can make it affordable along with the cooking demos we have, they can consume more than they were prior.”
The Athens Land Trust is also looking to expand its Farm Share program, offering an alternative way for low-income community members to access fresh produce, and to help small or beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers find an outlet to sell their crops. Bagley says the CSA-style program, which is headquartered at the land trust’s Williams Farm off North Avenue, had 52 members this year, but it needs to grow.
“We see this as a program that is already great but has potential to grow even further, to impact more people,” especially SNAP recipients, he says. “Our goal is to include more of these customers in the Farm Share program.”
The biggest limitation, he says, is the upfront cost of joining a farm share. The program plans to allow SNAP customers to pay weekly installments and pick up their boxes at the Saturday markets.
He adds that the Farm Share and Fresh for Less programs are just part of the land trust’s larger efforts to provide access to local foods for Athens’ low-income residents. Outside of the West Broad Farmers Market and Williams Farm, the land trust began hosting a pop-up farmers market on Sundays at the Terrapin brewery, which will run through June.
“We’re hoping to grow that market and draw in more people living in the neighborhoods behind the brewery,” says Bagley. “So, we’re continuing to look for ways to provide access to fresh food and education.”
The West Broad Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m.–1 p.m. through Dec. 15.