Grant from Slow Foods Wallowa gives boost to farmers markets

September 18, 2013 09:43 am

New program proposed by local farmers markets would help expand use of Oregon Trail Cards at farmers markets by rewarding card users with tokens for the same amount debited from their card — tokens that can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables

ENTERPRISE — The farmers markets of Wallowa County are joining together to promote good nutrition by expanding its acceptance of the Oregon Trail Card with a grant from Slow Foods Wallowa. 

The Oregon Trail Card works like a debit card and is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a benefit received by 616 Wallowa County households. Janie Webster, manager for the Wallowa County Farmers Market,  said the markets in Enterprise and Joseph have accepted SNAP cards since 2010 and the Lower Valley Market in Wallowa started accepting them this past summer.

“We chose SNAP for our grant application because it’s a program we’ve really put some effort into — it seems like a good opportunity to both promote healthful food and capture revenue for the market. This is definitely a community with limited access to fresh foods and that’s a big problem,” Webster said.

Though SNAP recipients have been able to use their benefits at the county’s markets, the program has been underutilized.

“At some point the (Wallowa County Farmers Market) board members and I looked at how much SNAP money comes into the county and it’s huge, but last year we were capturing less than $500 for the whole season; less than .5 percent,” Webster said.

Approximately $131,000 of SNAP benefits are distributed in Wallowa County each month. Benefits redeemed at farmers markets go directly to producers, so customers’ buying power supports the local economy.

The new program proposed by the farmers markets would reward each SNAP user with tokens for the same amount debited from their card. For instance, if a SNAP customer buys $5 worth of farmers market products, he or she receives $5 in tokens that can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Farmers market produce is not inexpensive. Webster said the new program, which will roll out next summer, gives more purchasing power and access to the market’s SNAP customers.

She said she first heard of the SNAP program when someone came to the market and asked if it was accepted. “Other markets in other places do this sort of thing — it’s worked in a lot of places and helped vitalize markets and get fresh food access to SNAP customers.”

Webster said the markets are working with the Department of Human Services’ office in Enterprise to increase awareness of the program by making flyers available for their walk-in clients and for mailings.

The markets have already tried to increase SNAP use by promoting the program with more signs and making it more comfortable for people to use, Webster said.

“No one knows if they are using a debit card or Oregon Trail card because it looks like a debit card. We’ve already doubled what we brought in last year, and we are trying to move that along even more,” Webster said.

Slow Foods Wallowa, an organization that’s been established in Northeast Oregon for several years, started granting money to local nonprofits last fall. Their first recipient was The Magic Garden, an effort started by Robin Martin of Joseph and a gang of volunteers that grow food at the Joseph School and at a site in Imnaha. The produce raised at these gardens supplements the Joseph School cafeteria and other members of the community in need.

Webster said they may receive as much as $2,000 from Pig-Nic, a fundraiser hosted this weekend by Slow Foods. The second-annual event will feature roast pig, fresh apple cider and music. She said the markets will need more than that amount in order to increase publicity, but she has applied for other funding, as well.

Advance purchase tickets for the Slow Foods Wallowa Pig-Nic are on sale at The Bookloft in Enterprise, Beecrowbee in Joseph and The Blonde Strawberry in Wallowa. 

The Enterprise market has received support through the Enterprise City’s hotel/motel tax revenue granted to nonprofits for economic development which was used to increase publicity.