2018-02-08 / News

Saco River Market takes SNAP, for now

By Grant McPherson
Staff Writer

BIDDEFORD – Individuals who qualify for the supplemental nutrition assistance program, SNAP, or what has been known as food stamps, can now use their monthly benefits to shop at the Saco River Market thanks to the work of local community members.

Emily Whitmore, president of the Saco River Market Steering Committee, along with committee member Pam Carr, helped initiate the process about a year ago. The committee needed a nonprofit to apply for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service, and Heart of Biddeford agreed to help.

“We have similar outlooks for the good of the community,” Carr said. “We’re very thankful they chose to sponsor us.”

Delilah Poupore, executive director at Heart of Biddeford, said the partnership was a natural fit.

“HOB’s mission is to revitalize the whole downtown and making sure downtown is inclusive to everybody,” Poupore said. “Their plan sounded great to me and to HOB. It makes the market more accessible to more people in Biddeford. People can use SNAP benefits at grocery stores and of course food pantries serve meals, but as far as being able to pick up sweet local carrots grown down the road, the market is the only one that makes that possible.”

SNAP benefits are available to those who are working for low wages, working parttime, unemployed, receiving welfare or other public assistance payments, elderly, disabled or homeless. Individuals who use SNAP have an electronic benefits transfer, which allows them to purchase goods with a card as opposed to the old system of food stamps. SNAP benefits can be used to purchase bread, cereal, fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, poultry, dairy products, seeds and plants.

The Saco River Market, in collaboration with the Maine Federation of Farmer’s Markets, will also offer Harvest Bucks to those using SNAP benefits.

“The Harvest Bucks program is designed so that people on SNAP have access to fresh local fruits and vegetables,” Carr said. “When someone comes in and buys with SNAP dollars, we match that dollar for dollar through the Harvest Bucks program. If they spend $19 we give them $19 in Harvest Bucks, which they can use anytime. They can use it that day or save them until the end of the month. When they come in and use it, it’s only for fresh fruits and vegetables.”

The Harvest Bucks program is experiencing a bit of uncertainty at the moment, as Carr said funding for the program ends March 31 and the vote to renew federal funding isn’t scheduled until September. “The Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets has written its own grant to try to cover some of that, but it will only cover from June until September,” Carr said. “Each individual market in the meantime is on their own for filling in that funding gap. We have to be creative. If people are interested in supporting the program, we’d love to have their support. One thing I love about the vendors at this market is every one of them pretty much said that this is why I grow, to make sure people can get the food they need and deserve.”

The program is entirely funded through the USDA at no expense to the vendors at the market. Whitmore, owner of The Farm at McKenney Road in Saco, said the program is part of the market’s effort to grow and increase its accessibility. “We want to keep expanding our vendors list,” she said. “We want to be a strong winter market in the area and get people not just from Biddeford and Saco but Portland and Kennebunk. We’re going to still have music every week and keep adding new, cool vendors. People come and are surprised at how affordable some things are. People think things are automatically more expensive at a farmer’s market.”

“It’s just at the heart of the philosophy of the market to get fresh food available to more people no matter their economic status,” Whitmore said.

For more information, email srmsnap17@gmail.com.

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