The farm-to-table movement — typically fare for the affluent and for trendy restaurants — is expanding to reach those with limited incomes. • Starting Sunday, food stamps can be used to buy local, organic produce at the Sweetwater Organic Community Farm Sunday Market, with a sweetened deal. Shoppers enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use up to $10 in SNAP benefits to double the value in produce, thanks to two grants. • That equates to as much as $20 worth of produce, said Brian Smiley, the farm's operational manager. It includes kale, lettuce, carrots, choy, chard, dill and cabbage, harvested just after sunrise and available at that day's market, from noon to 4 p.m.
SNAP benefits can also be used for eligible foods including fresh bread, locally roasted coffee and tomato plants at some of the more than 20 other vendors at the market.
"It's really exciting for us to broaden our base and reach into the community we haven't served," said Andrea Harms, market manager at Sweetwater Farm.
She hopes the incentive will draw neighbors to the 6-acre urban farm in Town 'N Country.
Currently, produce from the nonprofit community farm goes to its members, who mostly do not live nearby, to health food store Rollin' Oats Market & Cafe and to the Refinery, a Seminole Heights restaurant.
At the market, farm managers will set up a table with a pay station to process the debitlike electronic cards. The station cost $1,200 and was sponsored by a federal grant, along with two years of wireless service to cover the 15-cent charge for each swipe.
Another grant funds the Fresh Access Bucks Program, which matches the SNAP benefits for purchases of produce. This grant, from the Florida Department of Agriculture, was launched in May 2013 by the nonprofit Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers, based in Gainesville.
The program had processed $69,000 in SNAP benefits through markets by December. More than 100 farmers have sold produce through the program.
"We have 11 markets running now," said Carmen Franz, community food project coordinator for Florida Certified Organic Growers and Consumers. "We plan to have 20 by the end of the year."
The program is operating at the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market. It will soon be in place at the Sulphur Springs Farmers Market and the Suncoast Co-op Farmers Market in Pasco County.
The goal is to promote organic and sustainable agriculture and to change nutritional habits for those receiving SNAP — more than 47 million Americans, about 3.5 million of them Floridians, according to federal records.
Everybody wins — farmers and the community, Franz said.
Promoting fresh produce may be the other side of the coin of a 2012 Florida proposal by Sen. Ronda Storms to ban buying junk food with food stamps.
Franz said the matching grant expires in March 2015, but she hopes that a Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program that passed within the 2014 farm bill will keep SNAP beneficiaries coming to markets.
Elisabeth Parker can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3431.