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Grant encourages low-income families to purchase more locally grown produce

By: Gloria Young Journal Staff Writer
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Grant funding will soon give low- income families greater access and incentive to purchase locally grown produce. Carol Arnold, general manager of the Foothill Farmers Market Association and in charge of administering the pilot program, has received three grants — $25,000 from the California Foundation for Stronger Communities, $3,200 from Slow Food Placer County and $9,000 from Placer County First Five Commission — to get it started. “It is a huge barrier for low-income families to shop at farmers markets because of the cost,” Arnold said. The initiative has been in discussion at the county level for a while. “Last year Roger Ingram (University of California Cooperative Extension farm adviser) suggested that when doing nutrition classes for low-income (families), to then give them money to buy food at the farmers market,” Arnold said. “It works very well because it provides direct food and farmers benefit because it expands the market. It’s very win-win.” David Snyder, director of the Placer County Office of Economic Development, and Veronica Blake, CEO of the Placer Community Foundation, were also very instrumental in getting the project going. The Placer Community Foundation helped facilitate the $25,000 grant. The $25,000 grant will be used to pilot the food stamp (SNAP) EBT (electronic benefit transfer) program at the farmers market. The balance of the funding will be put into vouchers, Arnold explained. The vouchers will be used to double any food stamp money spent. For example, qualified families who spend a dollar in food stamp money at the market, will get a voucher for $1 to be spent at the market, she said. As part of implementing the program, there will be a centralized wireless card swipe machine for EBT clients. The $9,000 grant will be put into vouchers for participants in Nutrition Best, the UCCE nutrition classes. The assistance program will be initiated at the DeWitt farmers market starting next summer. “(We chose) DeWitt because it is near (county) agencies, so the clientele is already there,” Arnold said. “It is also near Chana High, which has teen moms. It is near the food closet, which is a natural partner and the UC Cooperative Extension is there.” If funding continues and increases, the program could be expanded to other farmers markets in future years. “It’s an idea whose time has come,” she said. Eligibility for the program will be decided through existing agencies. “We’re going to go to meetings of First Five, Women, Infants and Children, and UCCE,” Arnold explained. “(We’ll ask) what is the most effective way to get (the funding) to your clientele?” It is likely the vouchers (or scrip or tokens) will be provided onsite at the farmers market where they can be used immediately to purchase goods. It’s the best way of ensuring they’re actually used, Arnold said. For Blake, this kind of program makes sense in Placer County. “It is pretty special,” she said. “In addition to providing local food for people, it also helps farmers growing food locally.” Mona Dmitrenko, who represents the California Foundation for Stronger Communities, said the project stood out to her because it is part of economic development. “We love giving money to low income folks if it is helping the cause and improving the community we serve,” she said. Arnold, who is very enthusiastic about the program, said she plans to put the $3,200 grant funding to work right away, purchasing bags of mandarins to be given out to qualifying families in December at the Old Town Auburn farmers market. Reach Gloria Young at gloriay@goldcountrymedia.com.