New Hampshire Business Review
March 21, 2014

It’s 18 degrees outside at 9:15 on a Saturday morning in Exeter, but inside the warm, bustling cafe at the town’s high school, it feels like harvest season.

Farmers from across the state are busy setting up their displays for Seacoast Eat Local’s winter farmers market, arranging baskets of potatoes, green and purple cabbage, carrots, butternut squash, maple syrup, locally raised meats, milk, eggs, apple cider and honey before the shoppers arrive.

At the front of the room, a table is set up with information about the market, along with a basket of small, round wooden tokens marked with “$1.” These tokens allow people who receive food stamps through SNAP (the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to spend their benefit dollars on fresh, local foods at the farmers market.

Putting the phrases “food stamps” and “farmers market” together might cause a bit of cognitive dissonance. After all, farmers markets are often viewed as somewhat elitist places where the privileged can afford to spend $4 on a bunch of locally grown, organic carrots. But people at the Seacoast Eat Local market, and across New Hampshire, are eager for that perception to change.

“I’m really excited about local food, but I think together as a region that we need to be more inclusive,” says Caty Wilkey, the market’s SNAP program coordinator.

That’s why farmers markets across the state are working to educate SNAP beneficiaries about using their benefits at the market, as well as teaching them about “market match” programs that allow them to get double or even triple the benefits when they shop at farmers markets.

For instance, the Seacoast Eat Local market and many others provide a matching $10 when people spend $10 in SNAP benefits at the farmers market.

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