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Sonoma County CalFresh

Press Release

Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma, and Sebastopol Farmers Market Now Accepts CalFresh

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE July 21, 2010

Sonoma County Farmers Markets to Accept CalFresh

SANTA ROSA - CalFresh recipients in Sonoma County can soon use their CalFresh benefits to buy locally grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets in Santa Rosa, Healdsburg, Petaluma, and Sebastopol. The markets are the first in the county to enroll in a state project that provides free wireless equipment to process recipients’ electronic benefits cards.

Santa Rosa’s Original Certified Farmers Market kicks off its participation Saturday, Aug.14, from 8:30 am to noon, with special activities to introduce the market to new CalFresh shoppers and help them make the most of their food dollars. The morning will feature a complimentary lunch for CalFresh recipients provided by Mateo Granados and our local farmers. There will also be market tours, cooking demonstrations, shopping advice, nutrition-themed games for kids, and free cookbooks highlighting fruit and vegetable recipes in English and Spanish. The market runs from 8:30 a.m. to noon Saturdays and Wednesdays in the east parking lot of the Veterans Memorial Building, 1351 Maple Ave, Santa Rosa.

“Your local farmers were kids who spent their childhoods in the meadows and orchards, on bikes riding around the back roads - living outside.  As adults, they continue to live outside - working the land,” said Paula Downing, coordinator of the Santa Rosa Market. “We see so many kids today spending their childhood playing computer games, eating junk food and becoming overweight. Maybe the taste of a real peach or nectarine will help change their eating habits, introduce them to what it feels like to eat vibrant, healthy food. That is something to feel very good about.”

Farmers markets in Petaluma and Healdsburg started serving CalFresh customers in late June, and the Sebastopol market will start accepting the benefits on Sunday, August 15th.

More than 25,000 Sonoma County residents, including 14,000 children, participate in the federal CalFresh program. Local enrollment has grown by more than 65 percent in the past two years. Nationwide, a record 40.2 million Americans are relying on CalFresh, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The number of farmers' markets accepting CalFresh benefits is also growing nationally as vendors recognize the potential for a broader customer base and communities place greater emphasis on access to healthy foods in the fight against obesity. Farmers markets up and down California accept CalFresh, including markets in Mendocino and Marin counties

“The CalFresh program is intended to be a nutrition-assistance program that helps families with limited budgets buy healthy foods,” said Jennifer McClendon, project manager of the Network for a Healthy California - Northcoast Region, a public-health initiative that encourages low-income families to eat more fruits and vegetables and be physically active.  “Buying fruits and vegetables at a farmers market is a way to try great-tasting produce picked at the peak of ripeness.”

In addition to providing a safety net for low-income residents, CalFresh act as an economic stimulus. Although the average monthly benefit in Sonoma County is $280, a total of $3.5 million in CalFresh benefits goes to county households each month. It’s estimated that every CalFresh dollar used in the county generates $1.37 in related spending.

“CalFresh benefits are almost always spent locally, and stay in the community,” said Marion Deeds, director of the county Human Services Department’s Economic Development Division “Our local farmers and farmers’ markets get the benefit of these dollars, and low-income families have a chance to purchase fruits and vegetables so fresh they might have been picked from the farm that morning.  Everybody wins.”

Instead of the paper stamps of the past, recipients now use an electronic benefits transfer card or EBT, which works like a debit card at grocery stores. However, farmers markets can lack the equipment needed to process the cards, so the USDA, through the state Department of Social Services, provides free wireless “point-of-sale” devices to eligible markets.

Most markets establish a central location where staff swipe EBT cards through the device and debit amounts requested by customers, who then receive tokens to make purchases at individual food booths. At closing, the market reimburses farmers for the value of the tokens they accepted. Customers can save unused tokens for later use or return them for credit to their EBT accounts.

For more information about CalFresh benefits at farmers markets, contact Nancy Sumida at 707-565-2133.For information about CalFresh eligibility or to apply for benefits, call 2-1-1 or call 1-877-699-6868 or visit http://www.sonomafoodstamps.org.