SNAP Outreach and Promotion
Once your market has created a new EBT and/or debit/credit program, its success will depend on letting shoppers know about it. Making the services as visible as possible and in as many ways as possible is crucial. People are creatures of habit and may not see a new banner or a new sign. It may take multiple signs, banners, A‐boards, flyers and Facebook posts before they notice. As such, think of as many different ways to educate all your shoppers about its availability and how it works. Specifically for EBT, there are three main groups to target with your outreach: 1) community partners, 2) shoppers, and 3) vendors.
For EBT, these are organizations that work with low‐income people who are eligible or receive food stamp benefits. Typically, this includes the local WIC clinic, community action agencies, Workforce Development Agency, food banks, low‐cost health clinics, Head Start programs, anti‐hunger, faith‐based, immigrant and refugee support organizations – to name a few. Building long term relationships with these organizations can help the market in many ways.
The key is to not assume that these community partners know about the farmers
market and what it offers. In some cases, you may encounter perceptions of the farmers markets as being “expensive,” or that clients may not want to shop at the market. Many projects around the country have demonstrated that given the opportunity, many low income people want to shop at markets for the same reasons as others. Emphasize that “farmers markets are for everyone” and that, with EBT, low income shoppers are able to access healthy foods and support local farms. By taking the time to build trust and a strong relationship, you can better educate these organizations, and they will be better able to promote EBT at the market. They might also be able to offer incentive programs to help get food stamp recipients to the market.
It is critical to let people know they can use their EBT cards (and debit/credit, if appropriate) at your market. This means making information as visible as possible with clear, attractive signage at your information booth, vendor booths, and other promotional materials. It helps if your signage is visually similar to the materials for your community partners.
Vendors can play an important role promoting these services by strategically letting shoppers know all the ways they can buy products at the market. The direct benefit to the farmers is increased sales! When a shopper brings in FMNP checks, the vendor could ask whether they know the market accepts credit cards or EBT cards and then refer the person to the market information booth for help. If a shopper says they’ve run out of cash and can’t buy more, a vendor could use this as a “teaching moment” ask if they know that the market accepts credit cards.
Research demonstrates that financial incentives or “bonus bucks” have a defining impact on the number of SNAP recipients using their benefits at the markets, and the rate at which they return there to shop. In a 2010 study of the Boston Bounty Bucks program, 87% of participating SNAP recipients reported they were consuming more fresh produce as the result of the program and that they would continue to eat more produce even without the assistance of Bounty Bucks (Kim, 2010). Nationally-recognized organizations like Wholesome Wave and Fair Food Network, which have popularized incentive programs at farmers markets, have numerous resources on their web sites. Many markets have even found success developing independent, locally-funded incentive programs rather than working with national funders. The Portland Farmers Market raised funds in the community for their Fresh Exchange Program, and launched a companion organization called Farmers Market Fund in order to administer Fresh Exchange across the city. The Hub City Farmers Market in Spartanburg, South Carolina has leveraged two distinct funding sources to operate a “Double SNAP” program. To learn more about your options intitiating or funding an incentive campaign, consult The EBT Incentive Program Toolkit published by the Washington State Farmers Market Association, or The Oregon Farmers Markets Association’s web page devoted to starting SNAP-Based incentive programs, covering logistic aspects like volunteers and marketing as well as funding and evaluation.
Using incentive programs to increase purchasing power for SNAP consumers
SNAP incentive programs—such as Wholesome Wave’s Double Value Coupon Program or Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks—are a means of increasing the purchasing power of SNAP shoppers at farmers markets. Customers receive a voucher from the market each time they shop (e.g. a $5 voucher for every $5 in SNAP spent), which can be spent immediately on more market products. Incentive programs compel shoppers to choose your market over other retail outlets, boost farmer sales, and increase the affordability of local food for SNAP recipients.
Cooking demonstrations are proven methods to engage and educate customers, regardless of the payment method they use. Markets large and small have institutionalized regular Chef at Market programs that highlight creative but simple recipes with fresh produce. Look to Fondy Farmers Market’s Seasonal Soul weekly cooking demonstration workshops, or Portland Farmers Market’s Chef in the Market as just a couple of examples of successful cooking demonstrations helping to “demystify” the diversity and seasonality of local produce.
Implementing cooking demonstrations to increase market engagement
Each week during the regular season, the Fairfax County Farmers Market in Virginia hosts cooking demonstrations at the market through their Chef in the Market series. The program is operated by Virginia Cooperative Extension Service staff or Master Food volunteers. Cooks use seasonal produce to create simple dishes for interested shoppers and also make themselves available for more general cooking questions. The market promotes the program to SNAP recipients while they conduct transactions at the market manager booth. The demos are engaging and open to all, though can be especially so for SNAP customers who are new to shopping at farmers markets.
Ensuring that people can access your market regardless of their mode of transportation is critical, and lack of transportation options during market hours is cited as an obstacle by many SNAP users. Some markets offering SNAP have found that partnering with local public transportation to bring more people to the market has helped increase SNAP sales. The Columbia Farmers Market in Missouri, as one example, even helped fund a new bus route to the market during its operating hours. Local transportation agencies may be willing to circulate flyers to riders, while buses and bus stops themselves offer advertising opportunities that could more directly reach your target audience than newspaper or online advertisements.
Marketing a SNAP program through radio and bus advertisements
Columbia Farmers Market—which is the largest vendor-run market in the state of Missouri—used an Farmers Market Promotion Program grant during the 2010 season to initiate a series of radio spots to promote their acceptance of SNAP benefits, which allowed the market to reach a larger, diverse customer base. The market also introduced a “SNAP bus”: a city bus decorated with ads both inside and outside that trumpeted the market’s SNAP program and added a stop to take riders directly to the market. Through their advertising, Columbia Farmers Market saw SNAP sales increase by 77% and was able to capture new community partners for their market, which eventually led to a community-supported SNAP incentive program.
Snap-ED & Outreach:
Farmers markets are an ideal community-based platform for education about fresh, nutritious foods to SNAP participants and their families. The USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s SNAP-Ed program seeks “to improve the likelihood that persons eligible for SNAP will make healthy choices within a limited budget and choose active lifestyles consistent with the current Dietary Guidelines for Americans and MyPlate.” In recent years, SNAP-Ed administrators have increasingly embraced farmers markets as a venue for educating SNAP participants, and even offer a Seasonal Produce Guide on the national SNAP-Ed web site. Many state SNAP-Ed programs are contracted out to Land Grant University Extension Services, so reach out to your state’s SNAP-Ed contact to see if they might be willing to partner on education activities at your market. In addition, FNS also partners with state and local organizations and agencies to conduct SNAP Outreach to reach out to eligible low-income people who are not currently participating in SNAP and share information about the program. If you are interested in hosting SNAP Outreach activities at your market, identify your Regional SNAP Outreach contacts here.
Parents and caregivers are attracted to free, outdoor venues where their children can interact with others, learn something, and maybe even get a free sticker, pencil, or other inexpensive freebie. Don’t underestimate the power of children to bring adults to the market. Programs like the Power of Produce (POP) Club can engage children in cooking and the discovery of new vegetables and fruits. If your market has sufficient staff or volunteer resources, offer childrens’ art contests, taste tests, or a coloring table with crayons where kids can with color pages of vegetables, fruits, farm animals, and cooking tools. Many sites offer free downloadable coloring pages just for this purpose, so visit sites like Fruits & Veggies: More Matters! to get started with simple tools for engaging kids at your market.
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