July is starting up and the High Country is getting settled into its summer rhythm; memories of winter’s cold fade, the green of the mountains and the sounds of the rivers pulls us outdoors, and the exchange of local farms, crafts, foods and friendships that is the Watauga County Farmers’ Market (WCFM) is now a staple summer experience for many.
At the market this year some 76 vendors are engaged, of whom about seventy are active at the Market each week. Of the 33 vendors who sell products that are authorized for sale under current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) guidelines, 31 are participating in WCFM’s Beet Bucks program. The Beet Bucks program lets customers purchase local foods using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, which have replaced food stamps.
“Getting the Beet Bucks program up and running has been a lot of work, but it’s been well worth it” said Tori Cox, WCFM Manager. “It is wonderful to see more vendors able to accept EBT payments than in previous years. And as a result our customers who use EBT cards have access to a wider variety and a greater quantity of healthy, local foods.
This level of enthusiasm by the WCFM vendors – shown in the 90 plus percent participation- reflects an excitement over the opportunity to engage in “connecting the dots”. Vendors have expressed that they are glad to participate in supporting and providing healthy alternatives in food sourcing for families in need and like being part of a growing ‘Buy Local’ and ‘Help Local’ culture within the High Country. Additionally, vendors want to send a community-building message of support to EBT participants and the broader community during a time of economic uncertainty, pushing back against any residual stigma that may still exist against receiving a helping hand from others.
Scott Lycan, who assists with the tokens program at the market, has been impressed by the high level of nutritional and food quality knowledge exhibited by WCFM customers using EBT cards.
“Last week one client advised me on the tastiest recipes for kale,” Lycan said. “Another EBT card-holder has cheerfully asked a WCFM vendor and baker if her bread is baked with bleached or unbleached flower.”
The Appalachian District Health Department’s wants to make sure everyone has access to healthy choices, like the fresh fruits and vegetables found at the WCFM.
“It’s difficult enough to make healthy choices,” said Kaitlyn Jongkind, Appalachian District Health Department. “We want to make sure cost isn’t a barrier to purchasing healthy, local foods.”
June has been “EBT Month” at the WCFM, and to promote the market to our EBT customers, the Market has been offering $10 EBT gift vouchers from market vendors. Some 20 families have benefited this month from this effort.
“We want to all we can do to keep getting the word out regarding the Farmers’ Market and the EBT program, all as a part of an enduring commitment to gather and strengthen our community,” Lycan said.
The “Beet Bucks” program at the WCFM was made possible through the Appalachian District Health Department’s Take Step Two Initiative, a project dedicated to making healthy choices the easy choices in our community. To find out more about Take Step Two, visit www.takesteptwo.com.
For more information about Watauga County Farmers’ Market, visit wataugacountyfarmersmarket.org.