New farm market economics. 

It may not be fishes and loaves, but the amount of food a CalFresh recipient can purchase at many farmers’ markets has just doubled nicely. Farmers’ Market L.I.F.E., a program from Petaluma Bounty using Market Match funds just won from a federal grant, is matching up to $20 in CalFresh monies at many Sonoma County farmers’ markets beginning this summer.

While some markets already have a similar program of their own in place, Petaluma Bounty executive director Suzanne Grady hopes that they might consider coming under her nonprofit’s administrative umbrella in the future.

Chica Bloom Farm Made Local m.woolsey-21

Michael B. Woolsey Photography

“We have experienced that markets would get funding and then run out of funding,” Grady says, “the incentive would be offered and taken away, so it made it hard to sustain this effort enough for CalFresh customers to depend on it. We need to make this consistent to make it work for everyone. As soon as we can, we hope to bring on more markets. We hope that they find it beneficial, too, to stabilize our funding streams.”

The system is simple. CalFresh participants check in at the information booth at a participating farmers’ market. Depending on that market’s match, they are given either $10 or $20 in wooden “coins” to use in purchasing products from the farmers onsite to supplement their CalFresh funds. At the market’s close, the farmers redeem the wooden coins for cash or use them to pay any vendor fees incurred for the day.

Grady says that if the federal grant monies are fully matched through community and small business donations, some $76,000 will be available this year for lower-income shoppers to use at a participating farmers’ market. But that’s an “if.” Contributions are still needed to ensure the program’s success.

“We need local businesses to invest in this in order for us to continue and demonstrate its effectiveness,” Grady says. “We been able to show that there’s much greater need than was perceived, and we’re working very hard to bring down the price point barrier. We see this as the beginning of a longer conversation.”

To contribute to Petaluma Bounty’s Market L.I.F.E. program, call Suzanne Grady at 707.364.9118 or email her, Participating farmers’ markets are noted below with the words “Market Match” but inquire if your favorite market has its own program; there’s a good chance it might!

—Gretchen Giles


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