By Himanee Gupta-Carlson
New York State’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program begins this month. Through it, individuals who face economic hardship can receive $4 coupons to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, mushrooms and herbs at participating farmers’ markets.
The Saratoga Farmers’ Market is among the many farmers’ markets taking part in the program. It also is among its strongest advocates.
“Many of our vendors are farmers with social consciences,” says events coordinator Julia Howard. “They see their work of growing healthy foods as part of a larger vision to feed their communities. The FMNP helps make that goal more possible.”
The coupons come in books of five. They are distributed through such outlets as Saratoga County’s Office of the Aging as well as the state’s Special Supplemental Program for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC. The county’s Office of the Aging will distribute coupons on site at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market at designated dates this summer.
Individuals over age 60 can request coupons, as well as younger persons who participate in WIC.
The state’s Department of Agriculture and Markets describes the program as a means of promoting food security. It helps those who are economically distressed gain more access to healthy, locally grown fresh foods. At the same time, it generates income for local farmers and supports farmers’ markets as community venues.
Using the coupons is simple. At the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, participating vendors display signs at their stalls that indicate their acceptance of FMNP coupons. Customers can redeem the coupons for fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, and mushrooms in $4 increments.
Farmers work with customers to maximize the coupons’ value.
For instance, a large basket of potatoes might cost $5. A customer can use a $4 coupon to buy the potatoes and add an additional dollar of cash, or request that the vendor reduce the amount of potatoes so that the price comes to $4. In a different scenario, a bunch of kale might cost $3. The vendor might add a little more to the bunch to equal $4 or add a separate item such as an apple.
The overall goal is to ensure that more people have access to local food.