Innovations in Healthy Food Access from the Greater Rochester Farmers Market SNAP Collaborative
Posted On: July 20, 2016
Rochester-area farmers markets have come together to bring fresh, locally grown food to neighborhoods that lack access to healthy food. With funding from USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Farmers Market SNAP Support Grants (FMSSG), they formed the Greater Rochester Farmers Market SNAP Collaborative and will expand Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefit usage at local markets. SNAP, the federally funded anti-hunger program formally known as food stamps, provides nutritional support to millions of low-income American families.
Ensuring that farmers markets can accept SNAP is just the first step in the process. SNAP customers must know there is a benefit to shopping at farmers markets, so promoting that message is key. Margaret O’Neill, Program Director at Friends of the Rochester Public Market, the organization spearheading this in initiative, is determined to do just that.
“FMSSG funding enables the opportunity to reach more of our SNAP customers, to let more people know about our farmers markets and that they can use SNAP at the markets to purchase nutritious food for their families.”
Getting the word out doesn’t come without challenges. The collaborative is comprised of five very different markets, consisting of urban, suburban, seasonal, and year-round operations, as well as a mobile market – so development of a unified marketing campaign will take some creativity.
“We’ve conducted research and focus groups and are trying a number of things to determine which media outlets and messages work the best and will apply across all our markets. Our strategy encompasses multiple outlets including TV and radio ads, billboards, ads at public transportation depots, simple things like banners and signs, and social media. Through evaluation with our SNAP customers over the summer, we’ll tweak the plan to achieve our goals.”
The collaborative also plans to leverage New York state resources to provide nutrition education from Eat Smart New York at each of their markets, and promote a SNAP incentive from the New York State Fresh Connect program to entice new customers to shop at their markets. The Fresh Connect program provides SNAP customers with a $2.00 incentive check for every $5.00 of SNAP benefits used at participating farmers markets, thereby increasing their purchasing power by 40%.
“Our major challenge will be developing messages that promote these incentives and encourage SNAP participants to change their behaviors to shop at farmers markets. But we’re determined to make it happen.”
Rochester Public Market operates the largest SNAP token program in the country, with over $540,000 worth of SNAP tokens sold in 2014. The collaborative plans to establish a new SNAP token center at the Rochester Public Market to accommodate the large population of SNAP customers that already frequent the market. Piggy-backing on a national trend, the new center will be constructed from an 8’ x 20’ refurbished shipping container, a creative and affordable alternative to building a structure from scratch. This facility will serve as an educational hub for the collaborative’s SNAP marketing campaign, and will help customers learn about SNAP, apply for SNAP and find farmers markets that accept SNAP.
“On a busy Saturday during the summer, we’ll serve over 600 customers. Utilizing a repurposed shipping container is cost effective opposed to building a new facility, and is an innovative way to both educate the public and provide the best service we can to our SNAP customers.”