The first week of August 2021 is the 21st annual National Farmers Market Week, which celebrates the immense value of farmers’ markets to local communities. Nationwide, farmers markets continue to meet growing consumer demand for fresh and locally grown or produced foods, including fruits and vegetables. That relationship is vital at a time when Americans are facing growing food insecurity due to the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.
NIFA’s Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP) works with farmers markets, farm stalls, community-sponsored agriculture, and mobile markets by providing incentives for fruits and vegetables. GusNIP brings together food and health system stakeholders to improve the nutrition and health of participants.
Many GusNIP-funded nutrition incentive projects actively work with farmers’ markets to increase the availability of fresh, locally grown produce available for purchase with the SNAP benefits. This includes the expansion of dollar-matching programs such as “Double-Up Food Bucks Mississippi” and “West Virginia’s SNAP Stretch”. Programs like these increase the purchasing power of families and low-income individuals.
In addition, GusNIP promotes extended opening times at partner locations such as farmers’ markets in order to expand access to fresh, locally produced fruit and vegetables for low-income families. Simply put, more flexible hours will help more people achieve the foods that complement a healthier diet. GusNIP’s farmers markets improve food access by opening them more frequently, providing transportation, or running mobile markets to ensure shopping is convenient for working families.
GusNIP produces prescription grants and works with health organizations to prescribe fruits and vegetables to low-income patients. These patients can fill in their product recipes from vendors, such as participating farmers’ markets or mobile markets, while strengthening community bonds and promoting health.
To ensure that low-income populations have the greatest impact and to share lessons with the broader food community, GusNIP projects collect key metrics and participate in program evaluation. Partnerships with community-based fruit and vegetable sellers such as local farmers’ markets are critical to the success of nutritional incentives and produce prescription projects, thereby promoting healthier individuals and communities.