How the Petworth Market is Joining the Growing Movement to Increase Access to Local Food

According to the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture), SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) redemptions at local farmer’s markets totaled $18.8 million in 2014, a six-fold increase from 2008. While that is a small slice of overall SNAP spending (for perspective, SNAP cost $70 billion in 2014), it’s a promising sign.

The USDA is trying to close the gap between the increasing availability of fresh, healthy local food and the lack of access to such food for large swaths of our country, and its efforts are beginning to pay off. It administers 15 nutrition assistance programs, awards funding to support local programs, and provides digital payment (EBT) systems to local farmer’s markets. But not all local players receive such help, and yet many still manage to find their own innovative solutions. One such example is the Petworth Community Market (PCM) here in DC.

The Petworth Community Market is a farmer’s market held every Saturday (9am – 1pm) at Upshur and 9th St. NW (near Georgia Ave). In addition to being a quaint market with a diversity of vendors nestled in the Petworth neighborhood, PCM runs a successful and growing SNAP/WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) matching program. PCM’s “Spend $10, Get $10!” initiative allows anyone with a SNAP or WIC card to receive one-to-one matching funds for every dollar they spend at the market up to $10. The program, which saw limited adoption last year, has seen an almost 150% increase this year. On any given Saturday, the market now distributes several hundred dollars in matching funds.

The program’s success owes largely to the efforts of the market’s one-person staff, 12-person board, and key members of the community. External funding for the program comes almost entirely from an annual fundraiser held at the beginning of the season, where the market raises much of its operating capital, including money for the matching program (this year’s fundraiser was hosted by a nearby restaurant called Chez Billy).

Once the program is funded, it then falls to the staff and board to get the word out. According to Bartek Starodaj, the sole staff person (part-time, too) at PCM, the promotion strategy is centered on building community partnerships with a coalition of faith-based institutions and other anchor organizations that can either refer recipients or connect PCM to local service providers, who then publicize the program to their clients.

One organization instrumental in helping more SNAP/WIC recipients take advantage of the matching program is Mary’s Center, a Federally-Qualified Health Center (FQHC) that provides health care and social services to the underserved. PCM is in talks to formalize similar partnerships with other large community organizations. Through such collaboration, PCM is hopeful that the program will continue to grow.

PCM also facilitates another great program, the DC-sponsored Produce Plus Program. Produce Plus grants two $5 checks to any DC resident who participates in a federal assistance program (e.g., SNAP, WIC, Supplemental Security Income, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Participants need only show proof of residence to pick up their checks at any participating farmer’s market. For PCM, this is another means for signing people up to its matching program since many residents come to the market by way of Produce Plus unaware of the additional available matching benefits. This is great for all involved because whereas the Produce Plus Program only runs during summer months (June 1 – September 30), PCM’s matching program is available all season.

If you are interested in supporting the program and the matching program though a donation, visit PCM’s website or contact PCM directly at manager@petworthmarket.org.

This post was written by guest blogger Wes Melville, who also writes for his own blog Thyme Fries.

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