LANDOVER — Prince George’s County Department of Social Services has received a $100,000 grant to improve access to farmer’s markets for residents in need.
The grant, funded through the county council’s fiscal year 2019 budget, helps improve access to healthy food options from farmers markets by supporting the Maryland Money Market program run by the Maryland Farmers Market Association.The program will provide farmers markets the opportunity to utilize Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and provides a match for that benefit.
“If a customer comes to a farmer’s market and uses $5 of their SNAP benefits, in return, they will get $10 to spend at the farmer’s market,” said Department of Social Services Chief of Staff Stephen Liggett-Creel. “The funding will be used to support that program within Prince George’s County.”
The Department of Social Services currently has more than 40,000 citizens who are receiving SNAP benefits, Liggett-Creel said. Every zip code in the county has someone receiving SNAP, but most recipients are concentrated in the Lanham, Capitol Heights, Hyattsville, Langley Park and Beltsville areas.
Many of those families live in areas where they don’t have access at their local stores to get fresh fruits and vegetables, or the fruits and vegetables are too expensive for the limited funds the SNAP benefits provide. In some cases, the community doesn’t have a grocery store or doesn’t have those resources available. This program provides an incentive to access this benefit because it doubles the ability to purchase.
The Family Dollar in Lanham on Annapolis Road where Kim Haynes shops several times a week takes SNAP benefits. She lives within walking distance of the store so she can get there when she needs to and feels that there is good service there and in the surrounding stores.
However, she feels that there could be more options in the area from groceries to things like a library and a community center. Although she doesn’t use the SNAP benefits herself, she said it would be good to have more options for those that do use them to get fresh food.
“It (Family Dollar) has the basics of what I need,” she said. “There isn’t particularly enough options in the area. We could use more than one option for a grocery store.”
Many farmers markets in the county take SNAP benefits but therefore only a few in areas where the Department of Social Services has identified a significant need such as the Riverdale Park Farmers Market, the Beltsville Farmers Market and the Oakcrest Farmers Market in Capitol Heights.
Hyattsville Micro Farmers Market Manager Ellarose Preston said there is “definitely a need” for farmers markets and that they have a good representation of farmers that participate.
However, this past season they had a limited number of farmer’s who were able to take SNAP because of the costly training required for certification to accept them. As a small market going through a transition period, they didn’t have as many as they would have liked.
The Oakcrest Farmers Market is a larger market and had more farmers who were able to take the benefits but because the market just opened this year it was tough to get people there. Manager Chloe Marshall said that hopefully, they could spread the word to get more people to come next season because there is a need for the market there as well.
“In the immediate area, we’ve seen gaps in access to healthy food,” she said. “If you have the means to get to a store, yes it’s easy. If you are a family without a car or with small children, it can be tough to get food, especially in the Capitol Heights and Seat Pleasant areas.”
Accessibility to farmers markets is essential to not only give people healthy food options, but they allow people to connect with their food source, create jobs and volunteer networks and create a safe community space, said Maryland Farmers Market Association Founder Amy Crone.
“We’re thrilled to establish this partnership with Prince George’s County,” Crone said. “It’s a fabulous way to make sure that folks can get the most out of the market and really stretch their dollars to the furthest and it also provides additional revenue to the farmers that are selling at the market.”
The Department of Social Services has been active in providing programming around ensuring fresh fruits and vegetables and healthy foods to residents for many years now.
In the past, they supported the A Mission to Nutrition program which ensured fresh fruits and vegetables in pantries throughout the county.
This new program operated for a short period of time at one farmer’s market last year and worked successfully. The grant allows them to grow the program even more.
“What it’s doing is allowing us as a department, who manages supporting families and accessing the SNAP benefits, it allows us to expand that program to additional families in additional farmer’s markets,” Liggett-Creel said.
With difficulty some areas of the population have in accessing farmer’s markets, the new program will provide an extra incentive for people to come out and shop there, said University of Maryland Extension Agriculture Marketing Specialist Kim Rush Lynch.
The primary goal for the Department of Social Services is to help people allow their limited resources to go further.
“That’s really what this grant is about, encouraging access and incentivizing access to these nutritional foods through the match program,” Liggett-Creel said. “In addition to that, it introduces families to farmer’s markets, it supports the farmer’s markets in the county, it supports local businesses, so it’s a win-win from both sides of that particular industry.”