BANGOR, Maine — Patrons of the Ohio Street Farmers Market and the Brewer Farmers Market who use Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits now will receive a 50 percent discount on their food purchases.
That is because of nearly $30,000 in sponsorships from local businesses, banks, churches, service organizations, foundations and other groups, along with a grant from the USDA, according to Jack McKay, director of the Brewer-based nonprofit Food AND Medicine.
The idea of the discount, referred to as a matching incentive, is to increase struggling families’ access to healthy, locally grown food, McKay said Wednesday during a news conference at the Bangor Grange Hall on Ohio Street, where the Ohio Street Farmers Market is held.
Now in its fourth season, the Community Supported Farmers Markets program also supports the Bangor Farmers Market on Harlow Street, where a 25 percent discount will continue to be offered to families shopping with SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps, McKay said.
“This program is a win-win,” McKay said. “Food AND Medicine raises funds from local sources so that families get the incentive and farmers get the full amount of each sale. We reimburse the farmers on a regular basis with the funds donated by our community supporters. Without the generous outpouring of support from the local community, we could not have been able to offer this program again this year.”
Jamie Comstock, health program promotion manager for Bangor Public Health and Community Services, noted that access to healthy food at more affordable prices is important.
“Over 16 percent of Penobscot County residents are hungry and the rate for children is higher, at 25 percent, so fully one quarter of Penobscot County children aren’t receiving the nutrition they need to grow and learn and to become healthy adults,” she said. “We know that eating nutritious food is one of the best things we can do for our health.”
Ernest Rollins of Rollins Orchards in Garland is among the farmers who participate in the Ohio Street Farmers Market. His family has been in the farming business since 1821, he said.
“That’s a tough legacy for me to try to continue and I always have really tried, and my parents tried, to make our products affordable so folks can afford to eat fresh, healthy produce every day, not just as an occasional thing,” he said.
“It’s great to be able to partner with Food AND Medicine and the Grange and be able to bring our products a lot closer to the folks who really want them and really appreciate them and it’s great that we’re able to have this matching program that gives folks an incentive to purchase healthy, local produce,” he said.
Farmers market volunteer Marianne Fricke encouraged others to give of their time.
“I’m a people person so I want to be with people and this is a way that I can do that. I can serve my community. I can help Food AND Medicine,” she said. “It’s such an important, important organization. It provides quality food for everyone.”
Community Supported Farmers Markets has provided more than $22,000 in incentives, or discounts, to SNAP recipients since the beginning of last year. That, in turn, has generated more than $80,000 in sales for the 30 local farmers who sell their products at the three area farmers markets the program supports.
The Brewer Farmers Market is open from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays in the Brewer Auditorium parking lot and the Ohio Street Farmers Market runs from 2 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at the Bangor Grange.