Every Saturday at Mt. Hope Farmers Market patrons come to buy fresh meat and produce. It is also one of 24 farmers markets in Rhode Island that accept SNAP dollars, the equivalent of food stamps, so that people’s budgets don’t keep them from eating healthy and local.
SNAP stands for the supplemental nutrition assistance program. It was adapted from food stamps to promote healthier alternatives.
Cassie Tharinger brought the program to the Mt. Hope farmers market four years ago when she became market manager.
“That was a main goal of mine to have SNAP accepted at the market,” Tharinger said. “There is a system where customer come and swipe either there EBT card and we give them little coins that they then use at the market vendors.”
Kelli Roberts, from Roots Farm in Tiverton, likes the idea of bringing snap users to her produce stand.
“It allows access to people that otherwise might not be able to afford fresh veggies,” Roberts said. “Sometimes processed food is cheaper, unfortunately.”
With SNAP, a larger variety of customers have access to products beyond supermarket shelves. Event staff member Taylor Guenard recognizes the value of shopping at the market.
“At Stop N’ Shop you just get big aisles of packaged foods,” Guenard said. “Here you can be with a community and the food is so much better.”
This season the market promotes SNAP bonus bucks; where with every five dollars spent at the stands, users take home an extra two dollars worth of free produce, but, are these bonus bucks enough to make farmers markets affordable?
“There are a couple barriers that prevent people from spending their SNAP benefits here,” Tharinger said. “One is that somethings can be expensive at a farmers market.”
Guenard however, believes the higher prices pale in comparison to the higher quality.
“I will admit that you do pay more here than you do at a Stop N’ Shop,” Guenard said. “Its about the quality that you are getting and you feel much better about supporting these businesses.”
While eating fresh often comes at a high price, farmer markets like Mt. Hope, aim to keep their doors open to all so that everyone has a chance to eat well.