Farmers Markets and CSAs

Farmers markets contribute to the health of residents by improving the availability of fresh, nutritious, and affordable food within the community. Markets also build local economies by providing farmers and other producers with opportunities to sell their goods directly to consumers. Increasingly, farmers markets operate in lower-income, low-food access communitier to support those communities in need of fresh, local, affordable fruits and vegetables. To help support lower-income shoppers, many farmers markets, whether independent or part of a network, accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Benefits (SNAP, formerly “Food Stamps”), WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers.  Additionally, farmers markets can provide helpful nutrition education opportunities to shoppers, such as cooking demonstrations, to engage community members in learning about simple, healthy techniques for incorporating foods found at the market into their diets. Across the country, farmers market coordinating organizations have initiated SNAP-incentive programs, designed to increase the purchasing power of those using nutrition benefits at markets. Learn more and check out the resources on the Farmers Market Coalition website.

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) refers to an association of consumers who purchase local food directly from farmers or other agricultural distributors. Typically, a farmer or similar distributor sells shares of their produce to individual customers on a weekly or monthly basis throughout a harvest or growing season. In many communities, this means that customers come to a set pick-up point to collect a box of freshly grown vegetables once a week. Customers usually purchase shares, which constitute a membership or subscription that is used to support the local farmer or agricultural system. This model allows the farmer to receive payments upfront in the season, which pay for the producer's season costs and help protect the farmer against financial loss due to individual crop failure.

Key Challenges

Bringing a farmers market to a new community can be challenging, given the seasonal nature of many markets, and, in many cases, the lack of an indoor location. Below are some challenges markets have faced in the past.

  • Start-up and administrative costs. Although farmers markets are smaller food retail enterprises than a full-scale supermarket, they still require an initial stream of funding.
  • Sustainability. Farmers markets have to attract customers to make it viable for farmers and vendors to sell their products, including the costs for traveling to the market.
  • Accepting public benefits. Ensuring that markets accept SNAP benefits increases market sustainability, builds purchasing power for SNAP participants, and encourages SNAP customers to use their benefits to buy fresh produce. However, acquiring the right equipment and know-how to process these benefits can be an initial challenge for farmers and market managers.

Key Strategies

The report, Communities Putting Prevention to Work ‐ Get Healthy Philly Farmers Market and Philly Food Bucks 2010 Report, highlights strategies to support farmers markets in communities. These strategies include the following best practices.

  • Establish and support a farmers market collaborative. A farmers market collaborative is traditionally defined as a group of community patrons composed of market managers, advocates, and city agency staff who are dedicated to the establishment and continued support of farmers markets. They are community-based partners committed to not only advocating for a farmers market, but also support for its coordination, marketing, and outreach to the community.
  • Ensure vendors are aware of the local retail environment. Vendors at farmers markets can benefit from comprehensive business plans that help them gain access to and adapt to local food retail environments. Considerations include the pricing and quality of food sources in the farmers market trade area as well as the non-food retail establishments in the surrounding area. Vendors can tap into targeted technical assistance programs that advise participants about how to increase their earning potential.
  • Ensure vendors are aware of successful marketing strategies. Existing small business development training programs can also help improve markets marketing strategies to increase their profitability. Knowledge of community demographics, including income level and race/ethnicity, is important to drive market communications and outreach strategies, such as media format and language.
  • Promote the consistent on-site management of markets. Well-managed markets are key to the strategic promotion and implementation of food assistance programs. Across the country, chambers of commerce, nonprofit organizations, and community-based groups have managed successful markets. Markets benefit from management that tracks economic viability and provides technical assistance to vendors. Additionally, market managers can improve outreach to communities and assist with strengthening the design of the program.
  • Ensure markets accept government nutrition program benefits. The SNAP, WIC, and the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (FMNPs) provide direct, effective support for low-income mothers, seniors, and families to purchase fresh and healthy foods. Farmers markets that accept these programs benefit from the purchasing power of these recipients. Market managers can work with local governments to help vendors navigate the process of setting up machines needed to process EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards, thereby enabling recipients to purchase locally grown foods.
  • Build community support. Meaningful community outreach is integral to a market's growth and promotion. Markets can work with community groups, including community development corporations and community centers, to sponsor community projects that highlight markets. Local schools also play an integral role in building this support. Additionally, knowledge of community demographics, particularly in low-income communities, is essential to drive outreach strategies and ensure that products sold by market vendors match the needs of local residents.

In addition to city and statewide financing initiatives that support grocery projects across the country, there are other initiatives in place supporting farmers markets in underserved communities. For descriptions, go to View Policy Efforts by State

Tools and Resources

Key Resources for Funding Farmers Markets

For information on funding for your farmers market project, go to Financing.


Other Key Resources for Developing Farmers Markets

Success Stories

Successful farmers markets exist across the country in both urban and rural communities.

  • The Food Trust's Farmers Markets: The Food Trust operates a network of more than 20 farmers markets throughout Philadelphia, over 90% of which are strategically located in underserved communities. All Food Trust markets accept SNAP and WIC FMNP and S-FMNP benefits. In 2010, The Food Trust launched, “Philly Food Bucks,” a SNAP-incentive program in which every time a shopper spends $5 in SNAP benefits, he or she receives a $2 voucher redeemable for additional produce at any of The Food Trust’s markets, and at several partner markets across the city.
  • Kaiser Permanente Markets: This program helps bring farmers markets to communities in select states, including California, Colorado, Georgia, and Maryland.
  • Greenmarket Farmers Markets: This program has successfully established more than 50 markets in the New York City area by directly connecting farmers to local neighborhoods.
  • FRESHFARM: This network of farmers markets operates 14 markets in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia, which are completely run by producers so that more revenue goes into the pockets of farmers and food producers in the region.
  • Wholesome Wave: This non-profit organization is developing innovative solutions for residents in underserved communities to better access farmers markets. The organization's Double Value Coupon Program provides consumers with incentives that match the value of their federal nutrition benefits when used to purchase fresh, local produce at participating farmers markets and farm-to-retail venues. They also recently launched the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program (FVRx) which provides medical patients at community clinics and hospital settings with prescriptions for fruits and vegetables that are redeemable at participating farmers markets.

CSAs

Community-supported agriculture (CSA) is are gaining popularity across in the country in rural and urban communities, where access to locally grown food is often limited, because CSAs increase healthy food access, strengthen urban-rural connections, and support regional economies. Check out the USDA CSA website for more information and resources. 


Key Challenges to Bringing CSAs to Communities

  • High initial fees. Many CSAs require large lump-sum fees at the beginning of the growing season, creating huge barriers for low-income consumer participation.
  • Public benefits are often not accepted. It is challenging for EBT cards to be accepted at CSAs because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which manages the program, is often concerned about the prepayment arrangements that are common for many CSAs. Farmers also worry about administrative challenges of accepting EBT cards.
  • CSA members often do not have control over the amount or type of produce they receive. CSA members carry the risk of a bad growing season and will receive reduced amounts of produce when weather conditions are extreme. On the other hand, when there is an overabundance of crops, CSA members must find a way to make use of the excess produce. In addition, CSA bundles may contain unfamiliar produce that members must figure out how to prepare.

Key Strategies to Support CSAs

  • Offer reduced-rate membership shares, installment plans, and work shares for low-income households. Many CSAs offer reduced-rate membership shares. For example, the People's Grocery in Oakland, California, has a modified CSA called the Grub Box that offers reduced-price shares subsidized by wealthier members willing to pay a higher price so lower-income members can purchase shares. To meet low-income consumers' needs, CSAs can allow members to pay by the month or even weekly. The Corbin Hill Food Project meets the needs of its customers in Harlem and the South Bronx by offering flexible membership terms.
  • Ensure that CSAs can accept EBT cards. Similar to farmers markets, CSAs that accept EBT and other benefits from government nutrition programs can attract more customers in low-income communities. Uprising Organic Farm in Bellingham, WA, exclusively serves low-income residents and is able to accept EBT by allowing people to pay for their food when it is picked up, thereby addressing the USDA's concerns about prepayment.
  • Ensure that CSAs can accept WIC and Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program vouchers. Federal food assistance programs such as the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program and the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program can be used to pay for CSAs in a few states such as California, Maryland, New York, and Vermont.

Success Stories

  • Philadelphia's Greensgrow City-Supported Agriculture: This CSA sells foods produced by urban farmers in the city to area residents, thereby supporting local agricultural efforts. They also accept SNAP benefits and offer shares to nearby low-income residents through a revolving loan fund created with a local community development financial institution, The Reinvestment Fund.
  • Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Clagett Farm: This CSA in Maryland offers work shares so that any adult who works four hours or more receives a week's worth of CSA items. In addition to work shares, Clagett Farm also offers reduced-price shares at half price for low-income households or individuals.
  • New York's Just Food: Just Food is a nonprofit organization in New York City that has started CSAs where EBT is accepted. Many of their CSAs offer reduced-rate membership shares, revolving loans, installment plans, sliding-scale share fees, scholarship shares, and work shares to make the CSA more available to low-income consumers.
  • Green City Growers Cooperative: This 3.25-acre hydroponic greenhouse in Cleveland, Ohio, is the largest urban food production greenhouse in the country. Green City Growers sells to nearby grocery stores and wholesale produce businesses. Employees are hired from the local community, can become owners of the business over a period of time, and share in the profits of the company.