The Columbia Farmer’s Market brings many different people together on Saturday mornings. Thanks to a local food program run by Sustainable Farms and Communities, this includes low-income families who can receive extra help to purchase fresh and locally-produced foods.
Access to Healthy Foods is a dollar-for-dollar matching program that began in 2011. Any family who receives benefits from the government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is eligible to receive up to $25 extra to spend at the market.
“Hopefully it makes things a little more accessible for them,” said Nathan Koffarnus, an intern with Access to Healthy Foods. “It kind of knocks down some of the barriers that keep people from even coming by here to look.”
Tasha Huesca is a mother of 2 and a member of SNAP. She’s been using the Access to Healthy Foods program for two years and said she sees many benefits to the program.
“It helps me to feed my family healthy food and it helps me to support the local agriculture community,” Huesca said.
Whether or not the foods at the farmer’s market are healthier than those at the grocery store is up for debate. But according to some new research, the farmers market may have a positive effect on the overall eating habits of low-income families.
Karen Chapman-Novakofski is a nutrition professor at the University of Illinois. She recently published a study on the fruit and vegetable intake of families who receive benefits from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and children, or WIC. She compared the produce intake of families who shop at grocery stores with those who shop at farmer’s markets and found that the location made a difference.
“Those WIC moms who were using the farmers markets really felt more self-confident that they could increase their vegetable intake,” Chapman-Novakofski said. “They felt that they could improve the healthfulness of their diet.”
Dr. Chapman-Novakofski said there’s definitely something different about shopping at the farmers market and this special atmosphere could change the way low-income families think about food.
Nathan Koffarnus said he sees this confidence in the families he helps at the Columbia Farmers Market.
Access to Healthy Foods participants take a survey every year about their consumption patterns. Data from the past several years shows that participants thought the market had a positive effect on the healthfulness of their diet.
“Folks self-reported that they felt like they were eating more fruits and vegetables than they had been prior to the program,” Koffarnus said. “They felt like their overall diets were healthier and that they had access to things that they maybe otherwise couldn’t have afforded to incorporate in their diets.”
For Tasha Huesca and her sons, the nutritional difference is in the taste. She said she can taste the lack of nutrients in the processed foods she buys from the grocery store and prefers to buy locally-produced foods from the farmers market.
“It’s real food, it doesn’t taste like plastic,” said Huesca about the peaches, blueberries and other foods she buys from the market. “You can taste the nutrients.”