On Friday of last week, the Columbus Dispatch ran a story about the growing number of farmers' markets in Ohio. In three years, the number of markets and roadside produce vendors has risen from approximately 500 in 2006 to more than 800 this year. That change has been tangible, as the benefits of nutritious, locally grown food have been better publicized and more widely recognized both regionally and nationally.
But a story in the New York Times this morning is even more exciting and especially welcomed by our gang of VISTAs here at Grow Food, Grow Hope. Not only are farmers' markets flourishing across the country, but the use of government food stamps is becoming more common as cities and states approach the issue of access to healthy food. "Food Stamps, Now Paperless, Are Getting Easier to Use at Farmers' Markets" (7/20).
As the story mentions, farmers' markets have only recently had access to credit and debit card transactions, a lag that has progressively widened the gap between growers and an increasingly cash-wary consumer base. Still, only a handful of markets are able to process credit cards, mostly because the $1,100 cost to set up the needed infrastructure is too steep for market managers or volunteers. But several states are now providing that resource free-of-cost to markets, and even paying the monthly fees that come with the service. It's all in the name of increasing people's access to healthy, local food, and it's already catching on.
As I mentioned in a post last week, several markets in our region allow the use of food stamps at their location. In the end, it's a win-win situation: people in need are able to buy good food, and growers are able to sell to a previously untapped customer base. Now we just have to publicize this resource as best we can, and hope it continues to spread.