RIVERDALE — During a press conference on May 30, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced the expansion of the Prince George’s County Department of Social Services Maryland Market Money Program.
The Maryland Market Money program is an initiative that allows residents who receive federal nutrition assistance benefits to get matching dollars when they shop at local farmers markets.
The program operates statewide and is operated by the Maryland Farmers Market Association. According to Executive Director Amy Crone, 35 markets across the state participate in the program out of the 145 in existence to support their “farm to fork” goals.
The Department of Social Services, who oversees the program in Prince George’s County, received a $100,000 grant in 2019 to expand the program, Alsobrooks said. The funding was renewed in the county’s fiscal year 2020 budget to continue to program.
The goal of the program is to make farm fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible to the area by removing economic barriers, said Department of Social Services Chair Gloria Brown Burnett.
Now that summer is almost here, and farmers markets across the county are opening, it is important to make healthy food options available at an affordable price, Burnett said.
“Farmers markets provide nutritional food, and the Maryland Market Money program allows Prince Georgians who receive food assistance benefits to buy more food with their benefits to feed their families,” she said.
The program provides a dollar for dollar match for up to $10 for people who use programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). A family who spends $10 at a participating market gets an additional $10 to buy locally grown produce.
The Prince George’s County Food Equity Council is a local food policy council which works to improve the public health and community wellbeing for all in the county. Co-Chair Kim Rush Lynch said the council is excited that the county has funded “one innovative strategy to ensure the health of our residents and our farmers bottom lines.”
“Farmers in other jurisdictions accepting SNAP incentive programs reported the diversified their products, added high tunnels to their farms and increased overall production. It allows farmers to bring diversified products and increased production.”
In addition to matching buyers money for purchasing food from farmers markets, the program benefits the community on a deeper level by giving a “tremendous purchasing power” to more members of the community and increasing local food sales for local farmers, said Burnett.
“Increasing purchasing power of our residents with nutrition benefits means they will have greater access to healthy fruits and vegetables for their families,” Alsobrooks said.
“Receiving that extra $5 in benefits can have a tremendous impact on purchasing power…If you come here every Thursday for a month and took advantage of the program, that would be at least 20 extra dollars in fruits and vegetables for your groceries.”
The program becomes even more critical because according to the county executive, 9.2 percent of the population in Prince George’s County lives below the poverty line, and about 42,000 households receive SNAP benefits.
However, according to recent data, roughly 1,000 SNAP recipients took advantage of the Maryland Market Money program last year.
Because of this, Alsobrooks said outreach will be essential in getting the word out about the program.
The Riverdale Park Farmers Market was the first to participate in the program. Of the 16 farmers markets in the county, three other markets will participate this year: the Greenbelt Farmers Market, Cheverly Community Market and Central Market in Capitol Heights.
“There is a direct connection between health and food access,” said County Councilmember Dannielle Glaros. “For us to be healthier as a community and healthy as a county, it means people need access to fresh fruit and vegetables and what better way to do that is the money market match.”
Alsobrooks also emphasized the importance of eliminating the food deserts throughout the county.
A significant barrier to county residents, currently 15 percent of the county is classified as a food desert by the United States Department of Agriculture, Alsobrooks said. Additionally, 55 percent of food establishments in the county are fast food. A priority for her administration has been the elimination of these food deserts.
“This statistic shows that our residents need further access to healthy food…To some, a grocery store or farmers market may be a given, but they have never lived anywhere without them,” she said. “But to others, I have to tell you that this access to fresh fruits and produce and groceries is a true blessing.”
Expanding the Maryland Market Money program will help bring access to healthy food to everyone in the county and decrease food deserts, Alsobrooks said.
“Expanding the Maryland Market Money program is just one of the ways that we’re doing that. Providing access to fresh and healthy food is even more important because a healthy diet is one of the main factors that can prevent a number of health complication and also can lead to a more productive life.”