Free rides to Allegan city's farmers market will be offered
Though Allegan’s Farmers Market is on hiatus for the winter, it will be back in the spring with a new grant-funded program: a free ride to the market.
The city’s promotions coordinator, Kelsie King, said the market saw great success in directing the use of cash assistance to the market in 2015, and the rides were inspired by that effort.
“For 2015, for the first time, the market participated in the SNAP program,” King said, referring to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, distributed in Michigan as the Food Assistance Program. “That basically enabled people to use their Bridge Cards at the market as they would at the grocery store, to help them buy fresh fruits and vegetables.”
An incentive program called Double Up Food Bucks supplemented that, a dollar-for-dollar match up to $20 per day. It’s provided by the Fair Food Network, which gathered private donations to roll out the service statewide after piloting it in Detroit.
King said, “That meant people who came in and spent $20 on their Bridge Card, they got $40 of produce.”
Two other programs came into play: Women, Infants and Children assistance, state distributions of federal assistance for qualifying low-income pregnant or breastfeeding women and children through age 5; and Senior Market FRESH, coupons to spend at participating farmer markets for qualifying seniors citizens.
“You never really know how you’re going to do the first year,” she said, “But a total of $8,818 was spent at our market involving those four programs.”
That topped her more modest expectation of $1,000, based on the size of Allegan’s market compared to others across the state.
While those operating stands at the market are not required to report total sales, King said the feedback was good.
“The farmers are happy with it,” she said.
Since she was hearing some customers were paying for rides to come spend their nutritional assistance and coupons, she saw an opportunity for expansion.
“I’m sure there are a lot more who can’t afford transportation that this could be a help to,” King said.
So, King applied for a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farmers Market Promotion Program. Through it, the city will receive $31,293 to fund free rides to the market for the general public in 2016 and 2017.
The grant may also be used to market the city’s downtown and pay some administrative costs.
Allegan County Transportation will provide the rides and customers within 10 miles of the market may call that service toll-free at 1-877-788-2287 to request the rides.
The Allegan Farmers Market sets up in the county overflow parking lot at Cutler and Water streets and runs May through October on Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
King said regular stops would be coordinated with local apartment complexes; customers there will not have to request a ride, but can have a ride provided each week at the same time.
She said, “This helps people who may not have much access to buy fresh fruits and vegetables and helps farmers reach new customers.
“Also, it might help the downtown. If someone uses the service to get dropped off in the morning, they might wait until the afternoon to ride home and spend the day downtown.”
Allegan’s market is one of eight statewide to receive a Farmers Market Promotion Program grant.
King said, “We are so excited to have the opportunities this grant provides. It will help improve the market for both the farmers and the customers, so it really is a win-win.”
According to a news release from the USDA, “Both the Farmers Market and the Local Food Promotion Programs were made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill” and “USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service is awarding $13.3 million in Farmers Market Promotion Program grants to 164 marketing and promotion projects involved with farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture, and other direct-to-consumer outlets for local food. Since 2009, this program has funded 902 projects totaling over $59.2 million to support direct marketing efforts for local food.”
For more information about the market or the transportation, contact King at email@example.com or (269) 673-5511, ext. 233.
Contact Ryan Lewis at firstname.lastname@example.org or (269) 673-5534.