Fund-Matching Program Opens Door For Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Participants

Posted: June 14, 2013

A transaction takes place at the Harrisonburg Farmers Market, which began a SNAP matching fund several years ago. In exchange for $10 in funds, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants can get $20 worth of tokens to be spent at the market. (Photo by Holly Marcus / Special to the DN-R)
“This is the food I used to eat when I was a kid,” customers tell Heather Cribb, coordinator of the Harrisonburg Farmers Market Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

SNAP participants can take up to $10 in funds to be matched in tokens to be spent at the market. Ten dollars in funding becomes $20 worth of items including local fruits, breads and productive plants — anything that can be taken home and used to feed a family.

Less time from farm to table means more nutrition, said Carolyn Harlow, of the Virginia Department of Social Services. “Opening the opportunity for SNAP recipients to acquire these products provides them with an opportunity to learn to purchase and prepare fresh foods while providing better quality food to their families,” she said.

Started in June 2010, the SNAP-matching program at the city’s market reached a demographic Josie Showalter says market organizers had been looking to access for a while.

“We had been aware of the fact that it was starting to be a possibility for markets, and we felt like it would be a really good way to broaden the [customer] base, and bring these types of things to the community in a broader way,” she said.

Since then, a growing number of new shoppers spend money alongside market frequenters, according to Cribb.

Last year, the farmers market took in $5,872 in SNAP funds; approximately $10,000 spent at local vendors “that would not have happened otherwise,” Showalter said. “Each year, it’s gone up nicely.”

The SNAP program’s availability helps to break the common perception that farmers markets are only for the affluent, Showalter said.

“I think that’s changing, as people see the value of buying local, when you look at all the factors,” including health benefits of fresh, local and often organic foods, stimulating the local economy, and building the community they live in, she continued.

Harlow said there does seem to be a trend toward more markets taking on this program.

“[SNAP customers] can explore the fact that, if they shop thoughtfully, it doesn’t cost much more. ... [Until SNAP], ... it was impossible to use food stamp benefits at the market,” said Showalter.

“People are just really thankful,” Cribb said. “Maybe, if they are not sure of where to go or what to do, I’d encourage them to come to the info table, there are always smiling faces there.”

For more information, contact Showalter at (540) 476-3377.

Contact Samantha Cole at 574-6274 or

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