NORTH ADAMS -- When the North Adams Farmers Market first began doubling the value of shoppers' food stamps a few years back, few people took advantage of the program.
Subsidized by a company called Wholesome Wave, participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are able to use their benefits to purchase tokens, which they can spend at the market on fresh, local goods.
"Some weeks we would get a couple of tokens, some weeks we wouldn't get any. If we took in $20 we would be like ‘Wow, that's a lot.' Now we take in $100 to $150," said Michael Gallagher, co-owner of Square Roots Farm in Lanesborough. "Part of that is that the market has grown. Everything is up across the board, but the [token use] is up more, proportionally."
What made the difference? Market organizers have teamed up with Mass in Motion's Amanda Chilson to aggressively market the program this year, according to North Adams Director of Tourism and Events Veronica Bosley. Cards with information about using SNAP at the market have been distributed throughout the area, including to BerkshireRides passengers and in local doctor's offices.
Through the Double Value Coupon Program, a person on assistance gets $2 to spend at the market for every $1 he or she charges on an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card. The difference is subsidized by Wholesome Wave.
"I really think the market is able to serve a diverse population," said Sharon Wyrrick, owner of Many Forks Farm in Clarksburg.
Wyrrick, who also has seen an uptick in business, added that she "really appreciates" that the market is a place to buy food that's "not just for people on food stamps, or not just for people that are well-off."
According to the Wholesome Wave website, the program generated $2.45 million into local economies and fed more than 40,000 families across 25 states and the District of Columbia. The program subsidized thousands in fresh produce, eggs, meat and more in 2013 in North Adams alone, Bosley said.
"I think in general any time that we're spending, I don't know how many billions of dollars we spend on SNAP every year, but so much of that goes to Walmart and 7-Eleven," Gallagher said. "Whatever of that can come back right into the community is great."
The farmers also stand behind the quality of their food -- and the benefit of the program to the local economy.
"It's a different kind of food. They're buying something that was picked that day or maybe the day before," Wyrrick said. "It's fresh, it's clean, and nobody was exploited in growing it."
The program also has made locally and sustainably raised meats affordable to many people receiving assistance for the first time, Wyrrick said. While local produce is often at least competitively priced compared to supermarkets, the local meat is generally more expensive.
"We have one guy in particular who comes and gets whatever we have [using EBT], because he's learned more about industrial meat production," Gallagher said. "I think everybody should be able to make those kinds of decisions about their food, but for the most part that's not the reality we live with."
Because of the rising success of the program, Bosley and market staff received $2,000 in donations from MountainOne bank and Greylock Federal Credit Union to match EBT money if the Whole Waves grant runs dry, she said.
"Some other markets have a match limit, but we have been fortunate enough to offer people an unlimited match," Bosley said.
The program has resulted in an inclusiveness that meets farmers' goals, they say.
"When we started the farm one of the things that was really important to us was the we are able to supply a very broad spectrum of our community with food," Gallagher said.