We are grateful for the opportunity that the SARE grant gave us to further test a pilot program began in 2007 to bring a farmers’ market to a low income neighborhood through the use of food stamps. The Chicora Farmer’s market operated with three farmers at varying levels of participation through the end of August. The market became a good place for community residents to meet one another and shop for locally grown produce. In addition the farmers themselves were able to benefit from EBT (food stamps) revenue they would not otherwise have gotten.
Despite these benefits to the community and farmers we did have to end the market a few weeks early due to several factors.
1. The increasingly difficult economic situation was causing farmers to have to spend more in fuel costs to get their produce to the market and at the same time it was limiting the amount of money spent at the market. Eventually, the benefits to the farmers did not match the resources they had to put in to get their produce to market.
2. We had a very wet late summer in the South Carolina Low Country and this affected farmers’ ability to leave their farms and get produce to market.
In the end we were grateful for the opportunity to host the market in our community. In post-market discussions with our farmers they have expressed a willingness to return next spring if economic factors improve.
The purpose of this project was to strengthen both agriculture and isinvested communities by providing families the opportunity to enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, increase knowledge on health and nutrition, and support community development efforts. The lack of supermarkets and other food retail outlets in the Chicora-Cherokee area of North Charleston has left many residents without easy and affordable access to healthy and nutritios food.
Therefore, Chicora-Cherokee can be categorized as a “food desert” or a place where people experience physical and economic barriers to accessing healthy food.
In the fall of 2007 the SC Department of Agriculture partnered with the Metanoia Community Development Corporation to offer a two month pilot farmers’ market in the Chicora neighborhood. The market would be the only market in the low country to utilize the EBT (food stamps) program for purchasing produce. This pilot market was enough of a success that we wrote this SARE Grant to run a market through the summer of 2008. The goal of the market was to get EBT investment into the hands of local farmers while also imporving nutrition in an urban inner-city community.
1. Build capacity for fruits and vegetables sold locally to provide sustainability for the rural community farmers by getting more food stamp dollars into the hands of local farmers on a weekly basis.
2. Strengthen both agriculture and Souther communities by providing a model for how to alleviate ‘food deserts’ through the establishment of local farmers’ markets.
3. Create a healthy community that can sustain itself in future generations.
4. The market will generate further interest in the development of the disinvested area around the Chicora Farmers’ Market.
1. Metanoia established partnerships between the Chicora Farmers’ Market and local farmers. Metanoia facilitated the opening and closing of the market and provided adequate supervision during the market hours.
2. We provided an individual to serve as the market manager who was trained in processing EBT payments. Farmers also accepted WIC checks, cash and regular checks. We saw as much as $200 spent weekly in food stamps with the heaviest usage being early in the month. On the last Wednesday of each month, little to no EBT payments would be made.
3. Metanoia build partnerships with the South Carolina Department of Agriculture, local entrepreneur farmers, and community based organizations.
4. Metanoia continued other community developement efforts and worked to integrate the market into those efforts through advertising to our summer school programs and working with our new homeowners to advertise the market as well. In this way we worked to make the market an integral part of the redevelopment of our community.
The outcomes and impacts for the Chicora Farmers Market were mixed.
We did have strong local participation for much of the summer. This included not only farmers but also local vendors who handed out community information. On the first day of the market the Mayor and other city officials were on hand to cut a ribbon to open the market in our community. Many residents who do not have access to automobile transportation used the market throughout the summer.
However, as the summer wore on we began to see a general decline in attendance at the market. Most residents were telling us this was because the larger economy was worsening and they just didn’t have as much real income to spend. Also, midway through the summer the city moved a larger market closer to our community. This market drew some of the wealthier customers away from our neighborhood and affected the farmers income. Also the farmers themselves had a very wet late summer and this hindered their consistency in getting to market.
For each of the reasons above we decided (in consultation with the farmers and others involved) to close the market approximately six weeks ahead of schedule. The final day was the last Wednesday in August. Even after the market closed, residents continued to ask for its return and farmers have expressed a willingness to return. However, until economic conditions improve we do not anticipate bringing back the market during the next growing season.
Educational & Outreach Activities
There were no scholarly publications that occurred as a result of this project, but there was a great deal of outreach. Local stories appeared on local network news and in the Charleston Post and Courier. In addition, a major portion of this grant went to fund a public service announcement that aired on television and radio. Finally, we also engaged in marketing the project through posters put up in local businesses, schools, etc.
Despite ending a few weeks early, the Chicora Farmers’ market did become a hub of community relationship building and a health. Each week at least one vendor was present in addition to the farmers who promoted good health. We had blood pressure screenings, a program that promotes children’s health, and a local organization that helps people get enrolled in medicaide/medicare just to name a few.
The market began with several hundred customers a week and by the time we decided to close it we had just over 100 customers on average each week.
The Chicora Farmers market served as a test case in the viability of using the EBT or Food Stamps program as a significant income producer for local farmers. We found several challenges for this model that we think will be helpful for others seeking to perform similar programs.
1. Generally speaking, those whose incomes are low enough to qualify for EBT do not have scheduled out weeks that allow them to easily plan for the weekly farmers market. One often got a sense that residents were purchasing food for immediate needs and with little planning for how to purchase food for the week ahead. Also, EBT customers may not always have the luxury of scheduling out and dividing their food purchases between grocery stores and farmers markets.
2. Although we saw signficant income from the EBT program at the beginning of each month, this would decline as each month wore on. This means that for a farmers’ market to be sustained on a weekly basis other sources of income must be available.
In summary, we feel that implementing EBT or food stamps programs in local farmers markets can generate additional income for farmers, but it is unrealistic to suspect that the income from this type of program will be significant enough to serve as the primary means for any market’s earnings.
At this stage of our experience we are reluctant to begin the Chicora Farmers’ market again next spring. Fortunately, the City of North Charleston has moved a larger market closer to our neighborhood so we are encouraging neighbors to use this market in the spring of 2009. (For further recommendations see ‘potential contributions’).