Lydia Engelsen walked under the oak trees in Pittard Park and pulled out eggs, green beans and jams from her boxes, writing their names and prices on small blackboards.
Engelson is a certified organic farmer from Danielsville, Georgia. She hiked her produce weekly to Marigold Market, a small farmers’ market in Winterville, for 33 weeks in 2021.
The market, which provides produce, baked goods and crafts, has grown from a few vendors on the day it opened on May 1, 2021 to more than 20 vendors, said Sherri Anderson, the market manager.
But Marigold Market, which opened in early April for the 2022 season, is part of something bigger.
Marigold Market partners with Wholesome Wave Georgia, an Atlanta-based nonprofit that fights food insecurity, childhood and adult obesity, and diet-related illnesses by bringing fresh produce to communities through its Georgia Fresh for Less program.
“It’s really exciting that more people are coming since we started. It’s fun talking to everyone,” said Engelsen, standing behind his vegetable stand on the second Saturday in October, before the market closes in December for the year.
The program matches SNAP benefits so families can spend double on healthy foods, said Georgia Fresh for Less program manager Alex Duncan. It inspires families to explore healthier options at farmers markets and produce stands.
“There’s now pretty clear research that food insecurity is associated with an increased risk of obesity,” said Sina Gallo, registered dietitian and professor of nutrition at the University’s College of Family and Consumer Sciences. of Georgia.
Access to healthy foods is crucial to preventing chronic disease in low-income families, especially minority communities, Gallo said, and national and state nutrition programs can increase access to fruits and vegetables over to unhealthy foods.
Bringing healthy food to low-income Georgians
Duncan spent seven years working in food systems and joined the Wholesome Wave Georgia team in August 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the opportunity to positively impact the food system and provide community choice drew her to the program.
“This work is meaningful and impactful every day,” she said.
Despite supply chain challenges and an increased number of Georgians relying on support during the COVID-19 pandemic, Duncan has worked to expand the Georgia Fresh for Less program, targeting northeast and southern Georgia. When researching markets to include in the band’s network, Duncan said she was looking for two things.
The program seeks markets selling the majority of SNAP-eligible items, such as fruits and vegetables, and expands those selling groceries to “ensure that we reinvest in local Georgia economies,” Duncan said. .
According to Wholesome Wave’s 2020 annual report, the most recent data available, 68 local farms, farmers’ markets and community healthcare providers were Fresh for Less partners. That year, the organization reported seeing a 56% increase in the number of families doubling their SNAP benefits.
spread the word
While expanding into new communities and recruiting new providers is a start, families need to know where they can double their funds.
This has been a problem for Marigold Market.
“It’s just such a barrier to getting it out to the community, to people who can use it,” Anderson said. “We want to include everyone here in our market, but how do we bring them in?”
Underspending of SNAP funds by Athens-Clarke County is a setback for Marigold’s Fresh for Less programming. According to state data, nearly 15,000 ACC residents received SNAP benefits each month in fiscal year 2020. But Sarah Moore, Wholesome Wave’s SNAP connection program manager, said more more Georgians were eligible for SNAP benefits than they were taking advantage of the program. She added that people can work full time and still be eligible.
SNAP funds, managed by the Georgia Department of Social Services, Division of Family and Children’s Services, are underutilized for many reasons, Moore said. One is documentation requirements. The application process requires proof of identity for the applicant and all household members, as well as proof of residence and household expenses.
People can submit their name, address, phone number, and signature to begin their application, but Georgia DHS advises people to fill out their applications as broadly as possible to speed up the process.
Supply chain issues increase agricultural market incentives
The burden does not stop with the documents. Even with more locations accepting SNAP and more opportunities for equalization of benefits, are the prices at farmers markets worth the visit?
A SNAP user since falling ill with an ALS-like illness five years ago that has now put her in a wheelchair, Kim, who did not want her last name used, said that farmers’ markets were too expensive. As a vegetarian who depends on fresh produce for much of her diet, she often purchases products with her SNAP benefits.
“I felt like I visited a club that I couldn’t and never would join,” Kim said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “The prices were very high.”
But farmers’ markets have become a valuable resource for obtaining fresh produce as the pandemic continues to put pressure on a supply chain struggling to keep up with demand.
According to Wholesome Wave’s 2020 annual report, shoppers reported shopping at local markets more often during the pandemic, increasing foot traffic for farmers’ markets across the state.
A $36 per month increase in federal SNAP benefits that took effect in October 2021 will help SNAP users stay ahead of supply barriers as Wholesome Wave continues to form supply lines of farm-to-table, Duncan said. The price comparison offered by the Georgia Fresh for Less program can increase the benefits even further.
Increased attendance at farmers’ markets is also helping vendors who have struggled over the past two years. The marigold market has grown throughout the pandemic, making sellers like Engelsen hopeful for the weekends ahead.
“I’m a farmer but I’m also a teacher,” Engelsen said. “A lot of people don’t see rutabagas or brown eggs in the grocery store.”
This story is written by students from the Covering Poverty Project, part of the Cox Institute Journalism Writing Lab at the University of Georgia, and UGA’s Medical and Health Journalism Graduate Program.