BANGOR, Maine — As a program that helps low-income Bangor-area residents afford locally grown meat and produce enters its second season, groups behind Community Supported Farmers Markets say they expect it to help local farmers and improve the health of the community.
During a Tuesday media event, Food AND Medicine presented a $28,000 check to two Bangor farmers markets and another in Brewer to help Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits purchase goods at half price at these markets. Food AND Medicine is a Brewer-based nonprofit organization that helps people meet their basic needs.
“That money is all saved so that when customers come to the market with their EBT cards, they swipe their EBT cards for half the cost and then Food AND Medicine has these funds, and we send checks to the farmers market directly so farmers are reimbursed for every single sale,” said Erin Sweeney, Agriculture Organizer for Food AND Medicine.
Half of those funds came from local businesses and sponsors, according to Sweeney. The remainder came from the Elmina B. Sewall Foundation, based in Kennebec. The J.T Gorman Foundation and Betterment Fund provided funding in 2012, according to Sweeney.
“It’s very important to give access to people that are on the margins to be able to afford and to encourage them to eat healthy. It is an incredibly important thing for our community,” Shawn Yardley, Bangor’s director of health and community services, said Tuesday. “All of those efforts really do make a difference in Bangor.”
Sweeney said each farmers market would include opportunities for people to learn healthful ways to cook and prepare the food they buy at the markets.
Last season, about 550 EBT customers received discounts through the program, using benefits that totalled more than $12,000. Farmers later were reimbursed through the program for the $12,000 those shoppers saved, Sweeney said.
This year, the program will make its debut at Brewer’s farmers market, which runs 8:30 a.m.-1 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday in the Brewer Auditorium parking lot.
Bangor Ohio Street market is located at the Bangor Grange Hall, 1192 Ohio St., and is open 2-6 p.m. Wednesdays.
The other Bangor farmers market is open 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays on Harlow Street across the street from Bangor Public Library.
A $40 cap has been placed on the program this year. If a shopper’s purchase exceeds $40, the maximum discount they receive will be $20. For example, if someone purchase $80 in goods, their maximum EBT payment will be $60. Sweeney said that’s because organizers want to ensure funds will sustain three farmers markets.
“Right now, one in seven Mainers are food insecure, meaning they don’t know where their next meals are going to come from,” Maine Rep. Adam Goode, D-Bangor, said during Tuesday’s event. He said the state should be proud of the fact that it’s one of the only places in the nation with a growing number of young farmers.
Only about 30 percent of the farmers markets in Maine accept SNAP funds, but the U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to change that by offering grants that can be used to purchase or lease the machines that run the EBT cards, or pay for wireless access.
Ned Porter, director of national and regional policy for Wholesome Wave, a nonprofit that works on similar programs in 28 states, said they have boosted income for farmers and given low-income individuals access to healthy food options they couldn’t otherwise afford.
“Our mission is to change the food system, and we’re doing it one farmer and one SNAP customer at a time,” Porter said.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misidentified the sponsor for the 2012 program. The J.T Gorman Foundation and Betterment Fund provided funding in 2012, according to Food AND Medicine agriculture organizer Erin Sweeney. The Elmina Sewall Foundation provided funds for the 2013 markets.