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Cash-for-Produce Funds Dry Up

Sales could drop at the Crossroads Market without matching funds for those on food assistance. (Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)

The Crossroads Market in Takoma Park has been a pioneer in bringing fresh produce to low-income families. When it opened it was the first Maryland farmers market to accept food stamps (now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) and coupons from the Women Infants and Children program. And it offered families on food assistance "fresh checks," good for up to $10 in fresh fruits and vegetables.

Three years on, the program risks becoming a victim of its own success. If organizers are not able to raise new funds, Crossroads will not offer fresh checks for the remaining 11 weeks of its market season.

"It's a catch-22," said market manager Michelle Levy. ""The more we've grown, the more we need."

Since the market opened in June, Crossroads has distributed nearly $8,500 in fresh checks to 517 families. That's a 300 percent jump over last year. Last week alone, shoppers redeemed $1,169.

The lack of funds is bad news not only for low-income families but for the market itself. Seventy-four percent of shoppers take advantage of fresh checks. Without them, vendors could experience a drastic decline in sales. Some, Levy fears, will not find it worth their while to continue to participate in the market.

Food assistance matching programs have become increasingly popular at farmers markets. The incentives, proponents say, encourage, but don't require, families to choose healthful fruits and vegetables. And the extra money goes straight into the pockets of small farmers. The Wholesome Wave Foundation, a Connecticut-based nonprofit, offers grants to markets in California, Georgia, Michigan, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and the District.

FreshFarm Markets also offers matching money at its Silver Spring and H Street markets. Co-director Bernie Prince said she hopes to have enough money to last the season.

Levy has taken several steps to revive the program. This year, she reduced the maximum benefit from $10 to $5 per family per week. Beginning this week, the maximum will be $3, though she hopes that is a temporary measure. She's also begun fundraising in earnest. The market has applied for foundation grants, though none would come through until next year's season. Since last Wednesday's market, she has raised $850. It's enough to keep the program going for at least another week.

The market continues to accept donations. Checks can be made out to Crossroads Market and mailed to 7676 New Hampshire Ave., Suite 101 MB 142, Takoma Park, MD 20912 or via PayPal.

-- Jane Black

By Jane Black  |  August 12, 2009; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  Food Politics , To Market, To Market  | Tags: Jane Black, farmers markets  
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Posted by: Williewill1 | August 13, 2009 12:27 PM | Report abuse

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