SUPPORTING THE LOCAL FOOD SYSTEM THROUGH FARMERS’ MARKET EDUCATION

Objectives: Farmers’ markets provide access to local food, while cultivating agricultural awareness and appreciation. Market managers and farmers lack familiarity with regulations, pricing, marketing, and funding. Many farmers’ markets do not accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefits Transfer (SNAP/EBT) payments, excluding potential customers. Objectives: educate market manager and farmers, increase farmer profits, and increase consumer access to and awareness of local foods. Methods: The Agent offered market farming classes. She consulted with a local market manager about increasing customers and sales. The Agent helped the market become a SNAP/EBT vendor and apply for a grant. The Agent trained farmers on SNAP sales and obtaining business accreditations. Results: Eighty people attended market farming classes (2012-2016). All attendees reported increasing knowledge of pricing, marketing, risk management, and regulations. Existing farmers implemented changes including: obtaining permits, modifying pricing, and improving succession plantings because of what they learned. Six attendees became market farmers. Farmer consultations increased profitability and regulatory compliance. The market received a Fresh Access Bucks (FAB) grant, doubling the value of SNAP purchases towards Florida produce. The first eight weeks of accepting SNAP, the market gained customers and $700 in purchases. Conclusion: Through the Agent’s educational efforts, farmers identified legal, production, and food safety risks, obtained permits and certifications, and changed practices to prevent liabilities for their businesses. By complying with regulations and obtaining accreditations, farmers can sell products to broader markets (i.e.- restaurants), increasing income. SNAP and FAB increased local food access and affordability. According to recent studies, participants in extra-value programs consume more produce, eat less junk food, and enjoy improved health. When consumers purchase local foods from farmers, they increase awareness and appreciation of agriculture, and are more likely to make purchasing and political decisions that support it. Market farming classes will be offered in Spanish this year.