By Anna Schuessler
Sonoma County residents relying on food stamps may find buying fresh produce just got a little easier. Farmers markets in Healdsburg, Petaluma and Santa Rosa are now accepting the stamps in an effort to make fresh produce more available to low-income families. Equipped with machines that exchange credit on electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards with more seller-friendly tokens, the markets promise to attract even more hungry residents than they have in the past.
Although the machines have already made an appearance at the Healdsburg and Petaluma markets this summer, they will soon be the talk of the Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building market on Wednesdays and Saturdays, making their debut on Aug. 14.
The push to bring fresh produce within reach of needy California residents came from both the state and local constituencies. According to Marion Deeds, director of the county Human Services Department's economic development division, the USDA is the brains behind the machinery, funding the creation of the ATM look-alikes at the national level. But it was up to the brawn of the local market managers and representatives of the Sonoma County Human Services Department to get them to market and make way for a currency that the farmers could bring back for reimbursements at the end of the day.
But farmers market prices are higher than those found in their super-sized brethren, where the dollar goes further, bringing satiety but not necessarily good nutrition. Shopping at farmers markets, where locally grown, fresh foods abound, can be a stretch for those who are forced to buy food that Deeds says are "not the best use of calories but what you can afford." In order to realistically foster nutritious and diverse lifestyles among those who use food stamps, facilitators of the plan are working with market managers to offer "market specials," weekly sale items available to all patrons. Due to fundraising efforts, the Healdsburg market is able to provide an extra boost toward more affordable prices, matching the first $10 of EBT credit that an individual cashes.
Santa Rosa puts its stamp of approval on the EBT machines with opening day festivities on Saturday, Aug. 14, at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market. 1351 Maple Ave., Santa Rosa. 8:30am–noon. Free. 707.565.2133.
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