On August 3, USDA Secretary and former Georgia Department of Agriculture Commissioner, Sonny Perdue, declared August 6-12 as National Farmers Market Week. Communities across the country will celebrate farmers, producers, and farmers markets that provide access to fresh, local food. This week, we’d like to celebrate our Georgia Fresh for Less partner markets that work to make their communities a stronger, healthier place to live. Georgia Fresh for Less farmers markets increase access to local food, stimulate their local economies and support healthy communities.
The Georgia Fresh for Less program at farmers markets makes fresh, local food more affordable to low-income families across the state. Over 1.5 million Georgians receive SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps) benefits each month. Fresh fruits and vegetables can be expensive for families with a limited food budget, leaving them a limited choice when it comes to healthy foods. To stretch limited food budgets, families often rely on high-calorie, low-nutrient foods that are cheaper and give you the best bang for your buck. Georgia Fresh for Less aims to make fresh food more affordable by matching SNAP benefits, dollar for dollar, at 60 participating farmers markets across Georgia. Year over year, this collaborative effort between farmers, market managers and Wholesome Wave Georgia positively impacts struggling families: 100% of Georgia Fresh for Less shoppers felt that the program made fresh, local food more affordable to them.
Over 80% of SNAP benefits are spent on groceries at big box retailers and direct money away from our local economies, while farmers markets serve as fresh food retailers that stimulate our local economies. For every $100 spent at a local farmers market, $62 stays in the local economy and $99 stays in the state economy. Imagine if every SNAP recipient spent $10 a month at their local farmers market. That would result in a $14,850,000 investment into Georgia’s local economy every month.
Georgia Fresh for Less leverages government nutrition programs to incentivize SNAP spending at farmers markets, investing those SNAP benefits into the local economy. For every $10 a SNAP recipients spends at a Georgia Fresh for Less farmers market they purchase $20 worth of fresh food from local farmers and producers. Vendors at Georgia Fresh for Less farmers markets report a 19% increase in their revenue since participating in the program.
Unlike many big box retailers, farmers markets put fresh fruits and vegetables front and center during the shopping experience. This celebration of local produce facilitates healthy choices and creates an engaging community that is good for the body and mind. We know eating a diet that contains fresh produce is good for our physical health, but many of us don’t realize that the social experience of shopping at a farmers market is good for our mental health. A study by the Project for Public Spaces revealed that people who shop at farmers markets have 15 to 20 social interactions per visit, while they would only have one or two per visit to the grocery store. Nearly 90% of Georgia Fresh for Less shoppers reported increased feelings of community engagement. Evidence of the clear correlations between social interaction and health mean the social space at farmers markets has important public health implications.
This Farmers Market week, we’d like to thank all of the market managers and farmers that put fresh, local food on the tables of families across Georgia. Their hard work helps Georgians eat healthy, engage with their community, and invest in their local economies.