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University Farmers Market Opens Access to SNAP Recipients

The University Farmers Market has launched an effort to provide greater access to fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables to residents of West Baltimore who want to patronize the weekly market.

Speaking in University Plaza Park with vendors as a backdrop, officials held a news briefing on July 2 to announce the initiative. Leaders of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) were joined by city and federal food policy officials.

As camera crews lined up, customers were purchasing ripe berries, tender sugar snap peas, and crisp pickles from stands at the market. Through a new partnership, shoppers now are able to pay for such items using their federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

SNAP shoppers also can get Baltimore Bucks, a matching incentive to stretch food dollars at the market. Crossroads Community Food Network, of Takoma Park, Md., and Maryland Hunger Solutions are assisting in this effort.

UMMC partners with UMB and local vendors to host the market, which is held on the plaza near UMMC and at the heart of the UMB campus, on Tuesdays from May to November. The urban location is near neighborhoods in West Baltimore that have been characterized as lacking an adequate selection of fresh, nutritious foods.

UMB President Jay A. Perman, MD, shown in left photo below, pointed out that the University regularly brings West Baltimore schoolchildren to this market as part of its commitment to combat chronic diseases and reduce childhood obesity. "We want to impress upon them the importance of eating healthy, but it does absolutely no good to teach children and families how to eat healthy" if doing so doesn't fit their budgets, he said.

"For some folks, it's a real challenge," Perman said. "So I am so pleased that we're marrying up our efforts to teach people to eat healthy with a program that enables them to follow our advice."

The University Farmers Market is the first hospital-affiliated farmers market in Maryland to accept SNAP benefits, said Jeffrey Rivest, MS, FACHE, president and chief executive officer of UMMC, shown at the podium in the photo below. "Through its leadership on this initiative, UMMC is serving as a model, we hope, for health care institutions and hospitals nationwide," he said.

Pres. Perman and CEO Rivest

Rivest explained that the purchases are made possible through UMMC's arrangements with Crossroads' Eat Fresh Maryland program. "Each week," he said, "Eat Fresh Maryland is on site to operate the SNAP debit machine and coordinate with Maryland Hunger Solutions, the state Department of Human Resources, and many other partners to promote this new program to our potential participants."

Though the "Baltimore Bucks" program, which involves currency that is accepted locally, Maryland Hunger Solutions provides a $5 match incentive for shoppers using the SNAP debit cards for women, infants, and children supplemental nutrition vouchers, or WIC.

Pres. Perman     Holly Freishtat     Eric Ratchford

Holly Freishtat, MS, Baltimore City food policy director, shown above in center photo, said she welcomed the opportunity to support our partners in "providing access to healthy, affordable food as a strategy to improve health outcomes." She also announced a newly formed Maryland farmers market association, a nonprofit organization that will help develop a statewide SNAP farmers market program.

"This farmers market association will also help the city achieve our goal to expand and support farmers markets for Baltimore City," Freishtat said.

Eric Ratchford, Acting SNAP Division director, U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service for the MidAtlantic Region, shown above in photo at right, said the state of Maryland has "blazed the trail" in getting farmers markets to take the technical steps needed to let customers utilize SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps. Currently, SNAP feeds about 47 million people nationally.

"We look forward to our continued partnership, trying to work with our partners in removing some of the barriers that we have in regulations," Ratchford said.

The University Farmers Market and its vendors have provided fresh produce, meat, baked goods and prepared foods to employees of local businesses, community residents, and visitors to the hospital and UMB campus since opening five years ago.
Posting Date: 07/05/2013
Contact Name: Patricia Fanning
Contact Phone: 410-706-7946
Contact Email: pfanning@umaruyland.edu