Nonprofit Voice | Everyone’s Market: Starting a Movement, and Fighting Food Insecurity, at the Farmers Market

News about food insecurity and urban food deserts across the country is ongoing and largely discouraging; a recent Atlanta magazine feature points out that half a million people in the metro area “live without access to something as basic as a grocery store.” To get the word out about the dozens of farmers markets statewide, many of which accept (and even double) funds provided through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), GCN member Georgia Organics started the My Market Club program.

New shoppers visit the Forsyth Farmers Market in Savannah and take advantage of My Market Club's $5 token incentive for first-time farmers market shoppers.

OPINION | by Danielle Moore, Farmers Market Campaign Coordinator, Georgia Organics | May 6, 2014

The veteran farmers market shopper might ask, “Why isn’t everyone shopping here?” With a bounty of fresh, locally-grown food available at farmers markets across the state, and such a growing interest in shopping locally and sustainably, why are such small numbers of Georgians shopping at their area market?

In 2012, Georgia Organics set out to answer that question—particularly as it relates to statewide food insecurity.

If you’re not familiar with the term “food insecurity,” it describes people who are hungry, or at risk of hunger. It's a condition described well by the Texas Food Bank Network: “a financial juggling act, where sometimes the food ball gets dropped.”

Statistics on food insecurity in Georgia are sobering: 20 percent of Georgians don't always know where they'll find their next meal. More than one in every four Georgia children are food insecure. Georgia ranks sixth in the nation for child poverty.

Georgia Organics believes farmers markets are poised to offer solutions—to feed people who deserve access to healthy, nutrient-dense food grown by our state's sustainable and organic farmers. 

Connecting local growers with people who are hungry makes basic sense, especially when many farmers markets accept SNAP and EBT benefits. Some markets are even able to double those benefits through a national organization called Wholesome Wave, whose Georgia chapter includes 21 markets "from Metro Atlanta to Rock Spring to Bluffton to Macon to Savannah."

Where do I pay? What are these tokens for? Who do I talk to? Should I haggle? What is a rutabaga, and how the heck do I cook it?

One problem: many people don't realize their nutrition assistance dollars can be spent (or doubled!) at these markets. That’s why neighborhood outreach has been a part of My Market Club from day one. 

Wait, My Market Club? What’s that?

Excellent question! A nation-wide peek into the minds of shoppers led Georgia Organics to some interesting realizations and, ultimately, to the creation of My Market Club, a rewards program encouraging Georgians to become regular farmers market shoppers. Three big takeaways from our research helped us develop My Market Club:

#1: For a first-time shopper, farmers markets are confusing.

Yep, I said it. Farmers markets may be commonplace for us organics enthusiasts, but for people used to shopping in a grocery store, they can be downright perplexing.

“Where do I pay? What are these tokens for? Who do I talk to? Should I haggle? What is a rutabaga, and how the heck do I cook it?”

With questions like these, and no obvious, easy source for answers, it’s no wonder we aren’t seeing more regular farmers market shoppers. 

That’s the reason for our My Market Ambassadors. These passionate, helpful folks are the face of the market for new shoppers: welcoming them, letting them know how the market works, and even sharing recipes and shopping tips. They’re also the ones dolling out rewards (see #2), which basically makes them every shopper’s best friend!

#2: Shoppers love rewards!

Whether it’s a freebie or frequent buyer card, rewards make us feel part of the process and, well, rewarded! They give us something to look forward to on our next visit, and keep us coming back. We’ve been lucky to be able to offer new farmers market shoppers some great rewards, like branded tote bags, $5 in market tokens to spend on local food, and more, thanks to the generosity of partner organizations like the USDA, Chipotle, the Georgia Food Bank Association, and others.

#3: People just don’t know about the farmers market.

For many shoppers, it’s not that they don’t want to shop at the farmers market; they may not even know it exists in the first place. Taking the time to look up a farmers market may not rank high on everyone’s to-do list. But when someone knocks on your door, or catches you when you’re out, and tells you about the great farmers market in your area—voila!— half of the work is done for you. That is why our Market Ambassadors not only welcome folks at the market, but also do community outreach, inviting people to come give the market a try.

They are also getting the word out that our markets accept, and in some cases double, SNAP and EBT benefits. Thanks to the generosity of Wholesome Wave Georgia, seven of our My Market Club farmers markets currently double SNAP and EBT benefits. That’s right: swipe your EBT card for $20, and you’ll get $40 in market tokens to spend on delicious, local, nutrient-dense food. How swell is that?

How can you get involved?

If you’ve never been to our My Market Club markets, head to any one of them (see the list below) and find the welcome tent. There you’ll see your friendly My Market Ambassador, ready to welcome you to the club and get you started at your new grocery store!

If you’re already frequenting one of these markets, you can help spread the word by bringing friends. Each new shopper you bring enters you into a raffle to win great prizes from our vendors, like canning classes from Preserving Now, ready-to-cook meals form Garnish & Gather, and even tickets to JCT Kitchen and Bar’s Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival.

See you there, shoppers.

Danielle Moore is farmers market campaign coordinator at Georgia Organics.

Georgia Organics is a member supported, non-profit organization connecting organic food from Georgia farms to Georgia families. They believe food should be community-based, not commodity-based.

My Market Club farmers markets:

 

 

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