Healthy Food Access a Recipe for Healthy Business at Forsyth Farmers Market

      Posted On: May 26, 2017

Forsyth Farmers Market in Savannah, GA is addressing its local food insecurity with a robust Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) doubling initiative, turning low-income neighbors into consistent customers while putting more dollars directly into farmers’ pockets.

The market opened in 2009, and shortly after, began the SNAP doubling program with Wholesome Wave funding. Consistent, well-executed outreach initiatives, as well updated electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment from the Farmers Market Coalition’s Free SNAP EBT Equipment Program, have also contributed to the dramatic growth in Forsyth’s SNAP program. In its first year, the program generated less than $1,000 in SNAP EBT sales. Now the market generally drums up $31,000 in SNAP sales, totaling $62,000 after matching.

Forsyth opened with its SNAP EBT program in place, allocating a place in the budget and cementing the program as a cornerstone of the market’s culture and mission. This budgetary inclusion also means there is no burden placed on participating farmers. The sales go directly to vendors like Canewater Farm’s Rafe Rivers. A vendor since 2013, the market served as his entry point into agriculture, allowing him to interact directly with customers and build the Canewater Farm brand. Within a year of becoming a vendor at Forsyth Market, Rafe grew his farm from one to ten cultivated acres. Helen Fields of Joseph Field Farms, a Forsyth SNAP/EBT accepting vendor, also finds reward in how the Savannah community benefits. “We enjoy helping people have access to our food. The program works to make sure no one is left out,” says Helen.

The SNAP EBT program has been promoted successfully through diverse efforts. Market manager Teri Schell explains:

“Savannah is a very word-of-mouth town, so we not only try to market directly to SNAP EBT users but also to people who work with SNAP EBT users like case managers, community centers, and other social service organizations. We have also had good luck with TV news stories over the years and always see a surge in new customers following a story. We’ve developed ways to talk to the newscasters about SNAP EBT and the matching program to try to make sure they speak of our customers with as much dignity as we do. We’ve also had teams of volunteers go out for door to door canvassing.”

The community impacts and aligns with the SNAP EBT program in other ways. The market’s Mixed Greens project, which is supported by the Georgia Council of Developmental Disabilities and is a Real Communities project, creates further market inclusion and diverse customer representation. Mixed Greens aims to give a voice to every market customer, and Mixed Greens SNAP EBT users have contributed valuable insight to how the market facilitates communication about recipes, nutrition education, and food education. SNAP is also accepted through the market’s mobile farmers market, Farm Truck 912. Farm Truck 912 buses locally produced foods to neighborhoods throughout the week, making local foods accessible if Saturdays or transportation pose a challenge.

Teri believes the SNAP EBT program guides community members unfamiliar with the market to unlocking its many wonders and benefits. “Our SNAP and matching program is an incentive to visit the market and for community members to experience the great community, healthy food and food education.”