Farm Market helps SNAP customers get added free vegetables and fruit

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Statesboro Main Street Farmers Market organizers are signing up more EBT-card customers for a program that matches SNAP benefit dollars spent on eligible Market2Go purchases with free additional fresh fruit and vegetables.

The market eliminated the membership charge for the online Market2Go a couple of years ago, so it’s free to join. Beginning today, Main Street Farmers Market has teamed up with the most recent Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation leadership cohort to offer SNAP recipients free assistance signing up and placing orders for Market2Go, 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays at the Outreach Center Inc. of Bulloch County, 515 Denmark St.

For SNAP customers who place orders there or elsewhere via statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net, a special delivery to the Outreach Center is planned for Thursdays, for pick-up between 6:15 p.m. and 7 p.m., said Relinda Walker, the Main Street Farmers Market manager. Or they could pick up their orders earlier in the regular drive-thru line, 4-6 p.m. each Thursday at the Statesboro Convention & Visitors Bureau, 222 South Main St.

“It’s a program where they can buy $20 worth of groceries and get another $20 worth of vegetables and fruits, fresh foods for free, but it’s not widely taken advantage of,” said City Council member Shari Barr, calling attention to the campaign for increased participation last week.

For several years Main Street Market has participated in Georgia Fresh for Less, a program to encourage people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as SNAP and historically as Food Stamps, to bring fresh produce home to their families. SNAP dollars are carried on electronic benefits transfer, or EBT, cards.

 

No tokens needed

At the in-person Saturday markets, Fresh for Less previously operated by issuing tokens to match the EBT dollars spent.

When COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the in-person markets for the entire 2020 season, Market2Go was modified to the fill the void.  Then Georgia Fresh for Less, administered statewide by an organization called Wholesome Wave Georgia, was allowed to operate through the online market without tokens.

The overall Market2Go surged to about 200 weekly customers last summer and has recently served around 100 customers at its Thursday drive-thru deliveries. But only about two to five EBT customers have participated in a typical week, Walker said.

 

Community in reach

She and Market2Go Coordinator Michelle Giddens and Main Street Market board members had been talking about “finding a way to get into the community rather than just waiting for the community to come to us,” Walker said.

Then women from the Lynda Brannen Williamson Foundation leadership class stepped forward in search of a project. Some high school and Georgia Southern University student volunteers have also been enlisted for the effort.

SNAP customers who want to participate can simply show up at one of the Tuesday help sessions, 5:30-7 p.m. Tuesdays at the Outreach Center, or call Walker at (912) 481-2263.

Under the program rules, Statesboro Market2Go cannot charge SNAP customers the 7% fee for maintaining the market that it charges other customers. But Wholesome Wave Georgia reimburses the market for the actual price of the free bonus fruits and vegetables, so growers are fully paid, Walker said.

Anyone in the area can join the market at statesboromarket2go.locallygrown.net and place an order between 10 p.m. Friday and midnight Tuesday for pickup 4-6 p.m. Thursday. The market also has a Screven County pickup location in Sylvania and, for an added fee, a Bulloch County delivery service.

 

Spring expectations

The abundance of spring produce has yet to arrive, Walker acknowledged.

“We’ll just be moving into a season with a greater variety of vegetables and the beginning of the fruits, strawberries being the first that come along,” she said. “We should be looking at strawberries pretty soon.”

Meanwhile, a local contractor is still working to convert a warehouse behind the SCVB center into a new venue for the in-person Main Street Farmers Market and other events. The project, originally budgeted at $650,000 and funded by the hotel-motel tax, has encountered some pandemic-related delays but is well underway.

“This year the hope is that we will open for Saturday markets in the new venue, but it’s only a guess when that will be,” Walker said. “I would like to hope for June. I mean, clearly it’s not April. I think June is not out of the question, but it might get pushed a little beyond that. It partly depends on the construction, and it depends on the COVID numbers, too.”

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