Farmers Market Initiative: Connecting SNAP Participants with Healthy Food and Support


woman buying produce at a farmers market

PHI's Center for Wellness and Nutrition and partners are implementing the Farmers Market Initiative, which aims to increase the usage of SNAP/CalFresh, to support participants in stretching their food dollars to purchase more local fruits and vegetables at a farmers market through the state's Market Match program.

$401.64 average increase in monthly CalFresh redemptions at participating farmers markets, a 36.34% increase

84 average monthly CalFresh transactions at participating farmers markets, representing a 24.36% increase

Farmers markets are a vital component of the food system—supporting farmers and local economies, and offering fresh fruits and vegetables to individuals and families at the peak of the growing season.  Beyond offering farm-to-table fresh food, farmers markets play a critical role in bolstering local economies and supporting farmers.

In 2018, a collaboration between the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), CalFresh Healthy Living Program, PHI’s Center for Wellness and Nutrition (CWN), and the California State Nutrition Action Council gave rise to the Farmers Market Initiative (FMI). The goal of FMI is to increase the usage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), referred to as CalFresh Food in California, to support participants in stretching their food dollars to purchase more local fruits and vegetables at a farmers market through the Market Match program–which matches customers’ CalFresh food benefits dollar for dollar and sometimes includes other federal nutrition assistance programs like Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

In 2019, CDSS and CWN expanded efforts to encourage more food assistance beneficiaries to shop at farmers markets and rolled out the CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) Food Navigators program. FMI uses a culturally appropriate social marketing campaign to increase awareness of fruit and vegetable incentives by using Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at participating farmers’ markets in 10 high need counties across the state. Through this program, CWN Health Educators hosted a variety of engaging activities at select farmers markets to promote the use of CalFresh benefits and select healthy produce for their families. The Navigator program ran for six weeks in conjunction with the FMI, bringing on-site activities implemented by bi-lingual, bicultural food navigator to create a welcoming space to address known barriers to shopping among low-income populations at farmers markets, including lack of knowledge and lack of comfort with using food assistance benefits.

In 2021, FMI moved to CalFresh Healthy Living as a signature program and expanded into new counties to promote shopping at participating markets through marketing and supporting on-site CalFresh Healthy Living Food Navigators at four markets. A few local counties also implemented their own Food Navigator activities last summer. The FMI promotional campaign was focused on in-person and virtual efforts, with many counties resuming nutrition education at the markets.

When looking at trends across participating markets, FMI intervention markets for which redemption data were obtained for 2020 and 2021, distribution and redemption of benefits increased. On average, monthly CalFresh redemptions increased by $401.64 (36.34% increase), and monthly Market Match redemptions increased by $285.82 (42.62% increase). In addition, average monthly CalFresh transactions increased from 67 in 2020 to around 84 in 2021, representing a 24.36% increase.

These interventions show that farmers market nutrition programs can improve inclusion, support nontraditional market shoppers’ experiences, influence health-related behaviors, and increase market sales for local farmers.

Through continued support and innovative initiatives like FMI and the Food Navigators program, farmers markets remain at the forefront of promoting equitable access to fresh, nutritious foods for all community members.

Versions of this impact were published in PHI’s Center for Wellness and Nutrition newsletter.

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