Beginning June 5, the Alexandria Farmers Market will begin accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit cards to help make it easier for lower-income families to buy and eat fresh, local food.
SNAP recipients can swipe their EBT cards at the market welcome tent in exchange for tokens for the amount of their purchase and use the tokens to buy eligible food products at vendor booths. In addition, through a sponsorship from United Healthcare, the market will match SNAP benefits dollar for dollar, so SNAP recipients will receive twice the amount of tokens to use on market visits.
“Accepting SNAP at the market means we are increasing access to fresh, local food for individuals with low incomes, and it also benefits farmers, ranchers and agriculture artisans by bringing new shoppers to the market and diversifying the customer base,” said Allison Tohme, Farmers Market Program Developer for the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance. “Offering the match allows SNAP customers to stretch their dollars further so they’ll get more bang for their buck.”
Almost all items for sale at the market are eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, food-producing plants, breads and baked goods, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, honey, nuts, jams, jellies, salsas and pickles. Customers can use their match portion on any item sold at the market.
“We do not want SNAP customers to feel limited in what they can shop for. Offering the match allows them to enjoy all products that the market has to offer, and we hope it encourages them to use their SNAP dollars at the farmers market instead of a grocery or convenience store,” Tohme said.
SNAP is a federal program that offers nutrition assistance to millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families across the nation. In Rapides Parish alone, almost 20 percent of the population is enrolled in the SNAP food-assistance program.
“Developing farmers markets are a great way to improve the quality of life in our communities, and this new SNAP program will make markets and local food more accessible to many of our residents,” said CLEDA President Jim Clinton. Tohme elaborated by stating, “Access to fresh food is an important issue. Our market’s location and environment make it accessible and welcoming by car, bus, or even biking or walking from the surrounding neighborhood. This new SNAP program improves the market’s accessibility from a totally different perspective.”
CLEDA’s Farmers Market Program is funded under a two-year Healthy Behaviors Program Grant from The Rapides Foundation. The program is part of the Central Louisiana Local Food Initiative, a community effort created in 2012 to strengthen Central Louisiana’s local food economy while increasing access to fresh food for all residents of the region. Administered by CLEDA, the initiative was created with a Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana Grant from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation and matching funding from The Rapides Foundation, and it is currently supported by grants and investments from the community.
Tohme said the SNAP program at the Alexandria Farmers Market was made possible through community partnerships. A Venture Fund grant from The United Way of Central Louisiana funded startup costs plus 12 months of processing and service fees. The Central Louisiana Community Foundation has been the market’s fiscal agent since 2016 and will ensure payments are processed properly. United Healthcare is sponsoring the matching incentive. First United Methodist Church of Alexandria provides the market space. The Rapides Foundation funds the farmers market development work in Central Louisiana, and CLEDA administers these efforts.
“At CLEDA, our job is to connect farmers markets with resources, and the Alexandria Farmers Market is a perfect example of connections that work well,” Clinton said. “Farmers markets are vital to the economy, and they ultimately serve to put more healthy food on the plates of Central Louisiana adults and children.”
The Alexandria Farmers Market is open on Tuesdays from 3-6 p.m. in the First United Methodist Church of Alexandria parking lot at 2727 Jackson Street. Three other Central Louisiana farmers markets – the Natchitoches Farmers Market, Oberlin Farmers Market, and Inglewood Harvest Barn Market – accept SNAP benefit cards.
The Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance (CLEDA) is an organization which consists of the economic development entities from the parishes (counties) of Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Concordia, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Rapides, Vernon and Winn. The mission of the Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance is to help people prosper in vibrant, thriving communities.
The Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana Foundation is building a healthier Louisiana through community outreach and charitable giving. In addition to the Challenge for a Healthier Louisiana, the Foundation has two signature programs: The Angel Award®, an annual recognition of outstanding Louisiana volunteers who improve the quality of life for at-risk children, and Smart Bodies®, a school-based program to prevent childhood obesity. Blue Cross also contributes nearly $2 million annually to various nonprofit organizations throughout the state that contribute to health, education and the overall quality of life in Louisiana communities. The Foundation is funded solely through Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Louisiana.
The Rapides Foundation is a philanthropic organization that develops initiatives and provides grants to organizations that share the Foundation’s mission to improve the health status of Central Louisiana. The Foundation’s service area consists of Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Rapides, Vernon and Winn parishes.
Farmers Market Program Developer
Central Louisiana Economic Development Alliance