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SNAP helps low-income families and farmers market

By Shelly Birkelo

JANESVILLE — The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, had a big impact on the 2012 Janesville Farmers Market and is expected to have even a greater impact in 2013, organizers said.

The local farmers market distributed $3,063 worth of SNAP tokens between June and October. Of those, $2,899 worth were redeemed at 28 of the 32 participating farmers market vendors, said Stephanie Aegerter, market manager.

Distribution of the SNAP benefits peaked the week of Aug. 11 and fell to a season low Oct. 27, according to the Janesville Farmers Market 2012 report.

"We started off really strong right away in June, then distribution peaked in August, declined slightly in September and dropped off in October, which probably had to do more with the weather than with the interest or need for the program," she said.

Distribution tended to spike the second week of the month, which coincided with when SNAP recipients received their monthly benefits, Aegerter said.

More farmers markets in the Midwest accepted SNAP benefits in 2012, according to a news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service Midwest Region.

SNAP at farmers markets gives low-income people greater access to fresh produce, provides ideal locations for nutrition education and outreach and supports local growers and producers, Aegerter said.

Of 216 people surveyed during the 2012 Janesville Farmers Market, 212 said that being able to use their SNAP benefits would help them eat more fruits and vegetables, she said.

Sixty-four participants said they had not been to the Janesville Farmers Market before it offered SNAP benefits, she said.

Every $1 in new SNAP benefits spent has the potential to result in up to $1.80 of economic impact, according to the USDA.

"A dollar's worth of local food goes to the family who needs it, and 80 cents stays in the community," Aegerter said.

The Janesville Farmers Market hopes to create partnerships this year with local restaurants and chefs to help teach SNAP users how to cook fresh produce, Aegerter said.

"Cooking from scratch with local ingredients is a great way to save money," she said.

Some vendors at the Rock County Farmers Market accept SNAP benefits, but Caroline Robb, market manager, said she doesn't track their usage.

Patty Bailey, who helped organize the Milton Farmers Market in 2012, said SNAP benefits aren't accepted because the market operates on the grounds of her business and not through a nonprofit group.

Aegerter believes SNAP usage will increase during the 2013 Janesville Farmers Market.

"As more people become aware they can use their SNAP benefits at the farmers market, we will see an increase (in redemptions)," she said.

Advertising on city buses and in print ads to let more people know the benefit is available also is a goal of the Janesville Farmers Market in 2013.

"People are excited when they find out about it," Aegerter said. "It's just a great thing we can offer."