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Millions in federal funds to encourage low-income Californians to shop at farmers markets

The do’s and don’ts of a farmer’s market

Felix Muzquiz, executive director of Vineyard Farmer's Market in Fresno, gives tips for making the farmer's market experience a good one for buyers and sellers.
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Felix Muzquiz, executive director of Vineyard Farmer's Market in Fresno, gives tips for making the farmer's market experience a good one for buyers and sellers.

A $3.9 million federal grant awarded to the California Department of Food and Agriculture will help the state expand a program that encourages low-income people to shop at farmers markets, state officials announced this week.

In July, the department launched the California Nutrition Incentive Program, or CNIP, which rewards recipients of CalFresh food stamps who buy fruits and vegetables grown in the state by doubling the value of their vouchers when they purchase at 339 farmers markets throughout the state.

The program’s latest infusion of funds, a three-year Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, builds on several million dollars in private funding and $5 million initially allocated by the state Legislature in 2016 to match federal dollars.

“Primarily, it’s a great way to provide nutritious food to needy Californians, and beyond that, also a way to boost the activities of farmers markets,” said Steve Lyle, state food and agriculture department spokesman.

CNIP is an extension of the Berkeley-based Ecology Center’s Market Watch program, now in its eighth year. The Market Match program grew its presence from 44 farmers markets to about 280 this past year, said Ecology Center Food and Farming Director Carle Brinkman. It’s in the process of adding 25 new markets with the CNIP funding.

“There’s around 800 farmers markets in the state of California,” Brinkman said. “So this funding will allow us to scale up, but there’s still more need.”

“Our hope is that this incentive helps low-income Californians overcome that healthy food gap,” she said.

This year, the state department is one of 32 organizations receiving $16.8 million in federal money intended to help 40 million-plus Americans who receive government food vouchers to buy more fruits and vegetables.

The grant to the state department was the largest of its kind given out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture this year. Sacramento Food Bank & Family Services also received a small grant of about $63,000.

Hannah Knowles: 916-321-1141, @KnowlesHannah

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