In 2009, the majority of area farmers markets in Kansas City accepted cash only as payment for the fresh, healthy food they sold. While this was an inconvenience for those of us who don’t carry cash, it was a ‘show-stopper’ for people receiving support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as the Food Stamp program).
Low-income families working hard to put food on their tables were unable to purchase healthy food at farmers markets because their food assistance funds were provided on a bank debit card. How ironic that those at the highest risk for the poorest health outcomes due to their lack of access to healthy food were unable to purchase the healthiest food for everyone — that which is grown locally.
The simple action of equipping area farmers markets with debit card machines allows SNAP users to shop at area farmers markets and local farmers to benefit by having the increased customer base. The Menorah Legacy Foundation, in partnership with Cultivate Kansas City , launched the Kansas City Beans&Greens Program in 2010.
With a special initiative grant of $50,000 from the Health Care Foundation, the Kansas City Beans&Greens Program purchased seven machines for seven farmers markets located in the metropolitan Kansas City area. This action drew other funders to the table and together we raised matching funds so that when persons receiving food assistance used their benefits at participating markets, additional dollars would be provided to make the food more affordable.
In its first year, the Beans&Greens Program brought over $97,000 in food assistance and matching funds to area farmers markets. That number has risen steadily and in 2014 it was nearly $370,000.
Beans&Greens has grown each year, and with continued funding from Health Forward and other generous donors, 18 farmers markets, more than 35,000 low-income persons living in Wyandotte, Johnson and Douglas counties in Kansas and Jackson and Clay counties in Missouri and more than 215 farmers have benefitted.
When interviewed as to why she chooses to use her SNAP benefits at City Market, one low-income mother said, “My 16-year-old daughter has diabetes so I have to make sure her food is low sodium and low fat. Before the Beans&Greens Program I could only afford to buy frozen vegetables for her. All of my kids prefer the taste of fresh vegetables, and they often come with me to the market to meet the farmers, get new recipes and try things we’ve never even heard of before. We just wish that farmers markets were open all year round.”
The program has been widely recognized as a model for other communities, and in 2014 the Missouri Senate passed Bill 680, which expands the Beans&Greens concept across Missouri. Currently, we are working closely with several communities across the state that are setting up their own versions of Beans&Greens that best fit their communities’ needs.
This blog post is part of A Healthy 10.