United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has proclaimed August 7-13, 2011 as National Farmers Market Week.

It’s a sad truth that many farmers today are at the bottom of the food chain, with little say in where, when, or how their products ultimately reach the customer.-  Stacy Miller of the Farmers Market Coalition.

I agree. We need to revitalize our farmers ability to thrive in today’s economic environment. One way is to empower our local farmer’s markets; they represent a critical piece of infrastructure for a safe and secure local food system. “Farmers markets are taking the lead to increase food security in America’s neighborhoods” according to Miller.

One idea to increase the demand (desire to purchase plus financial means) is allowing food stamp and welfare recipients to use their vouchers and EBT at farmers markets:

A focus on the farmer does not mean that shoppers needs go unmet. Participants in the Supplmental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are now able to redeem benefits at the Market thanks to support from the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), and a partnership with Northwest Arkansas Farmers’ Market Alliance (NWA) and the University of Arkansas.  With grant support, the market was able to implement EBT and a set wooden of tokens to begin accepting SNAP at both their weekend and weekday markets.  Local businesses have been working with FFM to start a matching program for SNAP as well as WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program participants. In addition, the grant has allowed NWA is able to advertise all of the participating markets on television to raise awareness of the market a reliable outlet for affordable fresh food.   Redemption rates are growing week by week as a result.

This policy is also being employed with success in Michigan:

FSFM is one of 48 farmers markets participating in the Fair Food Network’s Double Up Food Bucks Program, which matches SNAP/EBT benefits with bonus tokens that can then be exchanged for Michigan-grown fruits and vegetables.  Accordinf to the Fair Food Network, shoppers have used $207,266 of SNAP benefits at the participating markets, and have received $179,734 in Double Up Food Bucks matching tokens since June first of this year.  A third of these customers used their SNAP benefits for the first time ever at a farmers market, which means new income for family farmers.

The farmers market can be much more that your grand-daddy’s farmer’s market, too:

This summer, 50 farmers market members of FMC have taught canning skills to more than 8,000 people in 27 states through a nationwide Discover You Can program, sponsored by Jarden Home Brands and the Farmers Market Coalition.  “The response to our canning demonstrations at market has been tremendous, but what’s really exciting is that we are now reaching a more diverse audience through off-site partnerships,” says Deborah Crane, Marketing and Event Director for the Overland Park Farmers’ Market in Kansas.  “The market is partnering with 14 Tru-Value Hardware stores in the area, and with a radio station, running a 30 minute call-in show about canning local produce to 12,000 listeners in Kansas City.”

The Oregon City Farmers Market has helped more than 800 kids ages 5-12 learn how to make healthy choices through the Power of Produce! Club.  In an event on August 6th, Market Manager Jackie Hammond-Williams said, “Farmers markets are an important place to begin empowering our children to be conscious consumers and take control over what they eat…POP Club kids are now asking for vegetables, planting gardens at home, and trying new varieties of produce.”

The Historic Lewes Farmers Market (DE) not only demonstrates seasonal cooking, composting, and pollinator-friendly gardening techniques, but offers discounted books on sustainable living and a children’s storytelling hour.  For the last four years, the market has also provided scholarships to its farmers to help them learn how to extend the production season, try new crop varieties, and network with other farmers in the region.  According to Historic Lewes Farmers Market President Helaine Harris, the market also hosts a peer-learning workshop that “…provides a forum for local farmers to discuss important issues such as on-farm food safety.”