Saturday Morning Market Nourishes the Community
By: Gail Eggeman, Director
St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market
As the St Petersburg Saturday Morning Market begins its 17th season, it continues to make farm food affordable to folks in need in our community. With startup funding from the Allegany Franciscan Ministries in 2011 and a $10 match incentive, we launched what has been 9 years of successful food assistance programs amounting to over $350,000 of fresh, healthy food to St. Petersburg and beyond.
Our latest partner is Feeding Florida, Inc. They extend the buying power of our SNAP/EBT (food stamp) customers by doubling access to fresh, healthy nutrition in a program called Fresh Access Bucks (FAB). FAB matches up to $40 of SNAP benefits for an additional $40 of Florida-grown fruits and vegetables available from our farmers at the Market
The program works when SNAP eligible customers come to the Market tent. We have a small terminal connected into the federal program. We get a quick approval from the USDA, document the “sale”, and match it with up to $40 for fresh fruits and vegetables using market tokens as currency. The Market token program eliminates the need for individual farmers or vendors to make the costly investments in time, equipment and paperwork to participate in the SNAP program.
Tokens are either $5 or $1 and come in large and small sizes, respectively. No change is given the SNAP customer by the vendor and the green and purple fruit and veggie tokens cannot be traded for orange tokens; nor with anyone who is not a legal SNAP recipient. There are two colors of tokens: orange, representing the amount “spent” from a customer’s card, for eligible take-home foods such as a jar of pickles or ferment, kombucha, juice, kefir, breads, honey, ground coffee or coffee beans, frozen sausage or meats, baked goods, and spices. Orange can also be used for farm foods grown in Florida.
Green and purple tokens are for Florida-grown fresh fruits and vegetables only, which also helps our local Florida farmers thrive. Most of these eligible foods can be found on the rows on the east side of Market. We have organic farmers with vegetables, the best black-eyed peas, hot peppers, fresh ginger and turmeric, microgreens, citrus and in-season blueberries and strawberries. The southwest corner of Market is home to Aurora’s Produce. They are not actually farmers but choose products carefully, and indicate through their signage the fruits and vegetables that are Florida-grown and therefore eligible for purchase with green or purple tokens.
We began with A $10 match adding good food to those folks who might otherwise struggle to afford organic vegetables or other farmers market prices. $80 worth of food is a striking increase from $40 for a family in need. The market’s goal, with our vendors as partners, and funders who help support these programs, is to offer healthy and fresh foods to low-income families who receive SNAP funds. Our communities are healthier for it.