Coupons, SNAP benefits increase access to farmers market foods
LAKE COUNTY– Food from the farmers market is fresh and supports local producers, but it can be expensive. Local organizations are taking measures to help residents indulge in fresh, local food regardless of financial constraints.
“Farmers are really into getting fresh food that they just picked that morning into people’s hands,” Ronan Farmers Market Master Cryse Heiner said. “They want everybody to have access to fresh fruit and vegetables.”
Those enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use their SNAP funds to purchase food at any farmers market in the county. The Lake County Council on Aging will provide $50 in coupons to any qualifying senior for use at markets.
The Lake County Council on Aging received a USDA grant that will provide the coupons.
“The senior farmers market is valuable because fresh, nutritious food access can be an issue for seniors,” LCCA Executive Director Dara Rodda said.
Any Lake County resident over the age of 60 and designated as living below 185 percent of the federal poverty level qualifies for coupons. The LCCA will give each qualifying senior $50 in coupons. Seniors can use coupons to purchase fruit, vegetables, cut herbs, and raw honey at all Lake County farmers markets. Rodda recommended using the coupons for Dixon melons, Flathead cherries, and fresh vegetables. In addition to providing fresh food, Rodda said the market provides opportunities for seniors to engage with their community. Those interested in learning more can do so online at lakecountycoa.org or by calling 676-2367.
The LCCA will be accepting applications and distributing senior
coupons at farmers markets on the following dates: June 20 – Ronan; June 21 – Polson and St. Ignatius; June 27– Ronan; June 28 – Polson and St. Ignatius.
Each Lake County farmers market accepts SNAP benefits as payment for all food items except for hot, prepared meals. The Polson, Mission Falls, and Ronan markets offer “double SNAP dollars.” The markets will match SNAP funds spent up to $10 per market. This means a SNAP recipient can receive $20 of produce for just $10 of SNAP benefits. The “double SNAP” dollars must be used on fresh fruit or vegetables.
“At the farmers market you can use your SNAP benefits to buy food that’s local,” Heiner said. “When you go to the grocery store you don’t really see the person that made the product but at the market you can talk to the farmer or baker.” All the food at the Ronan market is grown or made in Lake County.
Those interested in using their SNAP benefits at a market should bring their EBT card. At each farmers market there is an area where SNAP tokens are distributed. The customer can tell a farmers market employee what amount of their EBT balance they would like to transfer to farmers market tokens. Then the market employee will use a card reader to deduct money from the EBT account, and provide the customer with that sum in tokens. The customer can peruse the market and give tokens to vendors in exchange for produce, meat, and dairy items.
Heiner said choosing to use SNAP at the market benefits farmers and those who purchase from them. “You’re putting your dollar back into the local community,” she said.
There are four weekly farmers markets in Lake County. The Arlee Farmers Market is held at the Arlee Brown Building on Wednesdays from 5 to 7 p.m. The Mission Falls Market is held at the Good Old Days Park in St. Ignatius on Fridays from 5 to 7 p.m. The Ronan Farmers Market is located at the Ronan Visitors’ Center on Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. The Polson Farmers Market is located on Main Street and Fourth Avenue and is open on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.