A report from Hunger-Free America 2019 shows that Mississippi is the third hungriest state in the nation and around one in four Mississippians are food insecure. There are food banks and other programs designed to help alleviate the problem, but the Oxford Community Farmer’s Market (OXCM) wants to be a part of the solution, too.
“So, I realized that there’s a whole level of need that we weren’t meeting, and it’s people who are food insecure,” said OXCM Marketing Director Betsy Chapman. “It’s people who maybe just make a little bit too much money to receive SNAP benefits or other types of assistance.”
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the food stamp program, supports low-income households by providing monthly benefits to buy the food they need for good health. To qualify for SNAP benefits, people have to apply in the state where they currently reside and must meet certain requirements, including resource and income limits.
OXCM’s board decided to create what they’re calling “Market Fresh” gift cards. These are $30 vouchers that are free to those that are overqualified for SNAP, yet are still food insecure, and can be received by contacting Chapman via the OXCM website or through the market’s Facebook page.
“The idea is it gives people choice,” said Chapman. “Those families are empowered to come and choose the foods they like best from the farmer’s market for their families. It’s empowering when, instead of just handing someone a bunch of radishes they may not want to eat, they get to come and pick out the tomatoes they know their kids will eat.”
The market raised funds for the program, and last year they had $4,000 worth of gift cards redeemed. The Market Fresh Gift Card program was piloted with a grant from United Way and continued with funds being raised from market supporters, customers, and community members. This year, they will continue the program to the best of their ability during the COVD-19 pandemic. To help pay for the program, they currently have a fundraiser on their Facebook page.
And the Market Fresh program does more than benefit local families, according to Chapman. One of the market’s vendors, Quinoa Soedsauer, said the gift cards give people, who otherwise may not be able to do it, an opportunity to help local farmers.
“This is a good way for them to be able to feel like they have a way to support us for the future,” said Soedsauer.
Chapman says one of her goals is to challenge the misconceptions about farmer’s markets and help build a community that is welcoming to people from all walks of life, while also encouraging them to participate in a local food system.
“One of the things that I wanted to see was confronting the perception that farmer’s markets are only for a certain type of consumer who might look a certain way, live in a certain neighborhood or drive a certain kind of car,” said Chapman. “We wanted to bump up against that perception and say, ‘No, we all eat, and everyone deserves access to the highest quality food possible.’”
For the next couple of years, Chapman says her focus is to ensure there is plenty of funding to support their financial programs so people will come out, support the market and be able to shop locally for themselves.
“The farmer’s market community is just so many different types of people from different walks of life and perspectives who are coming together and getting along swimmingly,” said Chapman. “We have our older farmers, our younger farmers, and then everyone in between. There are people from different political perspectives, religions, and whatnot, and everybody is like family when we’re there. It’s the same with our customers. This market is not separate from us, it belongs to all of us. I love that the farmers and the vendors have become family to me, and I love the relationships that I’ve made through this work.”
The farmer’s market is held at the Old Armory Pavilion every Tuesday, hours vary depending on the season.