Sacramento considers itself “America’s Farm-to-Fork Capital,” and while it’s true we live in an area of unrivaled bounty, not enough is being done to ensure the cornucopia of local farm products are accessible and available to make their way to every fork.
The CalFresh Program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), issues electronic benefits that can be used to buy most foods at many markets and food stores. The CalFresh Program helps to improve the health and well-being of qualified households and individuals by providing them a means to meet their nutritional needs.
CalFresh can also be used at participating farmers markets in Sacramento. By allowing CalFresh customers to spend their benefits at the farmers’ market, CalFresh recipients purchase far more productive, receiving fresher, healthier foods than when they spend their benefits at more traditional retail locations. Additionally, many of these farmers markets offer incentive programs, such as Market Match, that motivate CalFresh users to spend more of their benefits at farmers' markets by matching the first $5-$20 in benefits spent per market day with vouchers to spend on fruits and vegetables.
Yet, many recipients of CalFresh are not aware of these incentive programs, or even that they can use their benefits at farmers markets. Increased outreach to eligible individuals is needed to ensure families have access to affordable fresh fruits and vegetables.
The efforts of the CalFresh at Farmers Markets campaign benefit the whole community, not just CalFresh households: This program has indirect positive impacts on neighborhood vibrancy, by increasing the sustainability of farmers’ markets, ensuring that they continue to serve as a community asset. Further, when CalFresh users spend their benefits at farmers’ markets, the money stays local, going to small and mid-size farmers, which has a disproportionately positive effect on the local economy.
This program results in additional sales for local farmers, which benefits both urban and rural populations. A University of California study found that, for every dollar of sales, Sacramento Region agricultural producers engaged in direct marketing (such as farmers’ markets) are generating twice as much economic activity within the region as producers who are not involved in direct marketing (such as selling wholesale or through grocery store retail). This strong economic development impact is due primarily to the fact that direct marketers source a much larger percentage of their inputs within the region (89%) than do non-direct marketers (45%).
So what can we do to ensure fresh, healthy, local food gets into the hands of more residents that rely on CalFresh? Let’s engage with the community, City and County agencies and elected officials to improve CalFresh outreach and utilization.