Although farmers markets have long been a popular source of healthy food, people receiving food stamps have mostly been excluded from these markets due to a lack of access.
Farmers and vendors at these markets have historically only been able to take cash. But food stamps come on an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card – called an ACCESS card in Pennsylvania – that functions like credit or debit cards.
Now, Just Harvest’s Fresh Access program and its card-swipe kiosk allows shoppers to use their ACCESS, debit, and credit cards at markets that were not able to accept them previously. This benefits a variety of shoppers in multiple ways.
Jennae Dungan, a 28-year-old massage therapist from the North Side, thoroughly agrees. Massage therapy is generally low-paying, and having to be available for clients on their schedule or at a moment’s notice makes it hard to get a second job.
Jennae has received food stamps for three years and heard about the Fresh Access program after attending the North Side farmers market. With the expansion of the program to 15 markets – all seven Citiparks markets and eight other markets in the area – she now goes to the Pittsburgh Downtown Partnership‘s Market Square farmers market, which is closer to her workplace.
“I’ve kind of always been around different farmers markets, and we always try to grow our own veggies and fruits,” Jennae says. When she needs to shop at the markets she tends to buy apples, strawberries, blueberries, and herbs.
When asked if she feels like she benefits from the program, she says that she does. “Oh yeah. Because it’s convenient, and it’s more fresh. The flavor…it’s a little bit better,” she says.
The Fresh Access program gives access to fresh, nutritious, locally-grown and made products that many people may not have had ready access to in the past. These markets are also generally also located in the center of a community or neighborhood, close to places of employment and transportation.
In thinking about how Just Harvest is working with Pittsburgh-area communities to improve access to healthy food while supporting the region’s farmers, Jennae hits the nail on the head: “You’’re helping to support local people!”