Our 2009 SARE project aimed to facilitate the use of food benefits at Vermont farmers’ markets. The Youth Agriculture Project, part of UVM Extension 4-H, helps youth build life and job skills through hands-on agriculture career exploration and food education. Youth Ag partnered with the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market, which accepts food benefits dollars through Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT). Youth Ag personnel staffed the market’s EBT/debit card reader and created outreach and educational materials for markets and customers, including a manual for use statewide.
The market’s sales figures improved notably in income from EBT transactions. According to surveys, many first-time customers came to the market to use their food benefits dollars. We wrote an EBT/debit manual for BAFM, adapted it for statewide use, and made it available through NOFA-VT to other Vermont farmers’ markets. We also created a flyer on where to use food benefits in the Brattleboro area, and a brochure and poster on how the different food benefits programs work. (All outreach materials are posted here on NE-SARE and on our website at uvm.edu/extension/youthag.)
• Portfolio of outreach materials
• 40% increase in EBT use at BAFM
• 40 Market vendors surveyed, with 75% reporting EBT-related improvement at Market
• 100 debit / EBT card users surveyed, with 60% of responses reporting improvement in fresh food access
• Five outreach activities at sites where EBT users are served
• EBT/debit manual for the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market
Through year-round partnerships with farmers, educators, and service providers, UVM Extension’s Youth Agriculture Project offers on-the-job training and farm safety education. One such program is Summer Work and Learn, a paid 8-week job experience where youth from diverse backgrounds grow produce and sell it at the farmers’ market, participate in technical and skill-building workshops on food systems topics; mentor younger children in harvesting and preparing snacks; and visit a variety of local farms.
Summer Work and Learn is a natural locus for collaboration to educate consumers, promote local agriculture, and support access to fresh, healthy food for all people. The program offers experiential education in horticulture, teamwork and communication, professional skills, customer service, cooking, mentoring, leadership, community service, etc. Promoting food benefits with the market also added graphic design, marketing, and some basic food systems research.
Two program staff worked with two farmers on the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market education committee to train over fifty market vendors in accepting EBT, promote EBT to customers through press releases and on-site signage, implement the new statewide Harvest Health coupon program at this market, and connect with other markets using EBT.
Five program staff and eighteen youth employees created locally relevant outreach materials, staffed the EBT/debit card reader at the market, and contributed to an EBT/debit handbook for the market.
We worked with other groups and organizations to be more efficient and have greater collective impact, for instance:
– Post Oil Solutions had just finished a series of food justice focus groups with farmers and low-income consumers, and shared some of their findings with us, which helped shape design of the outreach materials and communication with local agencies working with low-income populations.
– Public agencies helped publicize Harvest Health and EBT availability to, for instance, food benefits recipients and residents of low-income housing.
– NOFA-VT, who first initiated EBT at Vermont farmers’ markets, contributed a third and final year of covering the machine fees for this market, and as part of their ongoing and comprehensive support of farmers’ markets offering debit/EBT, convened a meeting of over a dozen market EBT managers to identify challenges and best practices in staffing, outreach, accounting, etc.
– Follow up conversations with other farmers’ markets were a good source of tips for on-the-ground implementation, e.g. on signage and communicating with vendors.
• 465% increase in EBT dollars, 486% increase in EBT transaction count. This is almost a 500% increase from the 2008 season.
• Customer surveys: of ~200 surveys given out, 44 surveys returned, 84% agree that “the card machine has helped me buy more fresh fruits and vegetables from the farmers’ market.”
• Info and/or fresh food demos at both BAFM sites (Wed. and Sat. markets), outreach materials distributed via approx. 25 local agencies and individuals working with EBT users
• Final EBT manual handed off to BAFM.
• Manual revised for statewide audience; 44 copies distributed through NOFA-VT to markets utilizing EBT/debit.
As of summer 2010, the Youth Ag Project has handed off management of EBT to the new market manager, is helping distribute the EBT/debit manual and outreach materials to Vermont farmers’ markets, and is again a member of BAFM’s EBT committee.
Education & Outreach Activities and Participation Summary
The EBT manual and the site-specific (so far) outreach materials created from this case experience at the Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market are available here on NE-SARE and on our website at http://www.uvm.edu/extension/youthag (under About > Publications).
Each of the eighteen youth working in the program grew and prepared food, researched the food benefits programs that are present at Vermont farmers’ markets, and took home that knowledge. Youth reported feeling more food-literate as well as more empowered to get involved in their local food system. They felt more likely to shop at the farmers’ market and able to use fresh produce. In follow-up conversations, youth reported continuing to eat new vegetables they “met” during the summer, and reported success in encouraging friends and neighbors who use food benefits to spend them at the market.
The Brattleboro Area Farmers’ Market has clearer definition of all EBT-related tasks and who is responsible for them. This year’s EBT management team reports that the system we helped define last year is running smoothly, with less confusion about who does what along with how all these different benefits work.
We are receiving inquiries about adapting the outreach materials for other localities, and are working with institutional copyright requirements to make those relevant outside Brattleboro.
In terms of immediate logistics, one surprise was running out of tokens at the market. More people took them home than expected — both customers collecting tokens as souvenirs, and vendors putting off the reimbursement process. Elements of a solution include buying more tokens, bringing more of those tokens to the market, offering gift certificates for customers (so-so solution – they tend to prefer the tokens), and for the manager or the EBT/debit machine staffer to collect spent tokens back from vendors during market, swapping them a chit to use for reimbursement.
As for managing, our own project could perhaps have been more widely valuable with evaluation methods more appropriate to the audience. For instance, farmers’ market vendors were quick to report problems or satisfaction with how EBT/debit management was going, sometimes vehemently, but we only received 3 written surveys back out of over 40 distributed. This suggests that planned conversations would be a better method for soliciting feedback from this group.
On a community level, we would recommend seeking out both the usual players in our sustainable ag systems, and unexpected partners who are working with diverse populations and could really help promote healthy food and agricultural literacy for consumers and communities, including for instance social services, consumer outlets, and formal and informal youth educators.