Farmers market nutrition assistance programs make Greenwood return
By: Adam Benson
Dual programs that offer a conduit between fresh produce and a means to pay for it will be making their return this summer to Uptown Greenwood and the county’s farmers market.
Taken together, the state Department of Social Services’ Healthy Bucks and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program provide thousands in vouchers each year to ensure wholesome fresh foods are finding their way into households.
“In these food deserts and rural areas, there’s really a need for people to have access to fresh produce,” said Krystal Brown, program coordinator for the Healthy Bucks program, which launched in Greenwood last year.
Open to all clients who receive funds through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, Healthy Bucks participants who make at least a $5 farmers market purchase receive $10 in tokens to buy additional fresh fruits and vegetables. The incentive can use used once per market day.
Because of privacy restrictions, officials said they couldn’t disclose the names of people who take part in the program locally, but Uptown Market Manager Stephanie Turner said the feedback has been positive.
“We have now five or six regular customers that use this benefit every week and would like to see it grow. It is a wonderful program that stretches SNAP benefits, encourages healthy eating, and benefits local farms,” Turner said. “One customer told me the program was really a blessing to her, and another said that her children really enjoy the fresh fruit they have been able to purchase.”
Since its 2014 inception, the Healthy Bucks program has expanded from six sites to 21 — with redemptions totaling more than $51,000, according to a 2016 report by the South Carolina Food Access Task Force.
“It’s an asset not only to the client, but also the farmers and other vendors that utilize it,” Brown said of Healthy Bucks. “That’s the great thing about South Carolina in general, that word of mouth travels fast so when a client or a farmer get involved in the program, they do really well informing others.”
Healthy Bucks vouchers are distributed on Wednesdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., and the tokens can also be used on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to noon.
Meanwhile, a companion initiative to help bring farm-fresh goods to seniors is approaching a major milestone.
Since its May 2001 introduction, the Greenwood County Farmers Market has doled out nearly $500,000 worth of vouchers to eligible seniors, James Hodges, a Clemson Extension agent and staff liaison to the market, told the County Council last week.
“Once you get people in the market, they’ll return,” Hodges said. “Some of us go four, five or six times a year or more. It’s very good for the county and for those small farmers.”
Between June and October of 2017, the market hosted 29,731 visitors – and picked up a vocal proponent in County Councilman Mark Allison, who said he’s going to request local aid to the market.
“I think this is a service to our community that I as a member of the council has kind of overlooked,” Allison said. “They’re looking for some support for us and I will be coming to you to ask for some. I realize we can’t support every venture that goes on in the county, but this is a valid service to the people of Greenwood County.”
The county farmers market is open every Wednesday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon, June through October.