Farmers Markets Play a Big Role in Promoting USDA’s Summer Food Service Program

By: Honesta Romberger       Posted On: May 27, 2015

FM SFSP 2 copyWith summer fast approaching and another school year coming to a close, many students are looking forward to a break from their textbooks and the rigors of the classroom. But one serious question looming over the minds of many of the 21.5 million American children who receive free and reduced price lunch during the school year is, “when will I get my next meal?” For many of these students, their school lunch, provided by the federally funded National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is the only meal they eat each day.

To combat this growing issue, the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federally funded, state-administered program was developed to ensure low-income children continue to have access to nutritious meals when school is not in session.

The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers SFSP at the federal level, under the umbrella of the USDA. FNS decides overall program policy, regulations and payment rates. State agencies assigned to administer SFSP select sponsors from applicants, including non-profit and government organizations, which are fully capable of managing a food service program in all financial and administrative functions. The program reimburses approved sponsors who serve healthy meals to children and teens in low-income areas during the summer months.

This is where farmers markets across the country play an important role.

Many approved sponsors do not have the space or infrastructure needed to provide meal service to children. Farmers markets serve as a unique site location, providing an opportunity to further strengthen connections within the local community, while supplying a safe and educational place for children to eat.

Notable success stories are already mounting.

The West Virginia Farmers Market Association successfully matched nearly 20 West Virginia farmers markets to sponsor organizations after receiving a flood of interest from local markets that were provided with information on the program through email and social media outreach conducted by the association. Sponsors have accommodated varying market schedules – some operating 6 days a week, others 1 day – and are impressed with the community-driven mindset of markets, where activities and other educational outlets for children are already in working order.

In Kentucky, the Letcher County Farmers Market continues to make great strides with SFSP. Although a small market, nestled among a community of 3,000 residents, the summer months saw a total of 457 meals served across a two-day a week operating schedule to low-income children. An average of 19 children per meal. The market found success by partnering with the Letcher County Public School System as the sponsoring organization and initiating a community outreach campaign using local newspaper, radio and television ads, as well as social media blasts and flyer distribution to promote the program. Even more, program coordinators supported eight market growers by purchasing ingredients intended for SFSP meals, while market atmosphere blossomed into a venue where neighbors come to socialize, sparking an increase in foot-traffic as well as new returning customers.

Does your farmers market want to make an impact in the lives of hungry children in your community? Take advantage of the benefits of becoming an SFSP site and contact your SFSP agency to apply. Click here to learn more on how to become an SFSP site and for a list of state contact information and deadlines.