State Budget Includes $5 Million to Allow Those with Food Stamps to Buy More From Farmers’ Markets

More Californians who receive food stamps will be able to buy double the fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets after Gov. Jerry Brown approved $5 million in funding for the program as part of the new state budget.

The Market Match program increases amount people with CalFresh benefits are able to spend on fruits and vegetables at certain farmers’ markets in the state. There are 263 participating markets across California. Depending on the location, food stamps customers are given an extra $5 to $20 in market tokens to spend on fruits and vegetables when they buy an equivalent amount with their CalFresh benefits.

The USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program will match the state’s investment, according to the Berkley-based nonprofit Ecology Center that administers the program in California.

“With this funding, the state of California has put its money where its mouth is in terms of supporting healthy eating for low-income families,” Ecology Center executive director Martin Bourque said in a release.

“The demand for Market Match has consistently outstripped the supply of funds,” he said. “The additional $5 million will allow us to expand the program towards our goal of offering Market Match at every farmers’ market in the state.”

A number of organizations — including Roots of Change, Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, American Heart Association, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network and Hunger Action Los Angeles — spent three years working on the state-funding proposal.

In 2014, the coalition’s first attempt didn’t make it out of the appropriations committee. Last year, the legislature passed the California Nutrition Incentives Act, which Brown signed, but then axed the $2.5 million in funding that the legislature proposed for the program.

Last year the Ecology Center received one of the USDA’s first Market Match grants for $3.7 million over two years. The nonprofit also raised $3.7 million in private funds and in-kind contributions to secure the federal dollars.

More than 105,518 CalFresh shoppers have participated in the program so far, spending over $2.46 million in CalFresh and Market Match funds. The program has helped support 1,602 small farmers in California, the center said.

About 70 percent of the CalFresh participants said they are buying more fruits and vegetables because of Market Match. Nearly 80 percent said their family’s health had improved because of the program.

“Market Match makes fruits and vegetables affordable for low-income families, so they can easily participate in that basic cornerstone of health—eating right,” Bourque said. “The preliminary survey results clearly show that Californians on tight budgets who don’t already shop at farmers’ markets are becoming regular customers and buying more fresh produce through Market Match, which also helps local businesses and rural farming communities thrive.”

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