By Karen L. Ranz
The very best of summer’s produce has been in demand at farm stands and farmers’ markets all over Vermont. The tops of farmers market shopping bags and baskets are brimming over with the feathery tops of fennel and carrots bobbing along, competing for room with leafy beet tops and lustrous green Swiss chard.
The early heirloom tomatoes and peppers have finally arrived. Berries, fresh peas, salad turnips, summer squash in a remarkable number of varieties, fresh milk from green pastures and cheeses made from it, and many, many more wonderful seasonal things are also on display.
The Rutland market sees several thousand shoppers each week, and everyone seems glad to be out and about on nice mornings. Even a recent downpour, according to several vendors, increased sales rather than dampened them. One couple arrived on bikes wet rather than turn home or take cover. A woman with a stadium umbrella walked me over to my favorite egg producer when she heard I was taking him my stale bread and kitchen parings for his “ladies.”
These seem like such egalitarian, quintessentially Vermont affairs. Even the canines are in tune – tails wagging, ears perked, little dogs meeting big dogs nose-to-nose. That’s no small part of what there is to enjoy.
But markets aren’t entirely egalitarian. To many, an essence of exclusivity outshines what the rest of us see. Farmers markets can be out of reach for many Vermonters with limited food budgets, including seniors and working families.
And that’s why it’s important to know that there are seasonal programs that make shopping for fresh, local produce within reach. Each of us knows someone this information might help, whether it’s at work, down the road, or at church or another community group.
Programs like Farm to Family coupons and NOFA Crop Cash coupons enable people to make their own food selections and also to experience the simple joy of feeling like an equal part of our community in such an intrinsic way. They help people get freshly-picked Vermont fruits and vegetables that are sustainably produced.
Still, the differences and similarities between the programs can be somewhat confusing. If you or someone you know might qualify, this is information to keep handy.
Farm to Family coupons are distributed through BROC Community Action. These $3.00 coupons are valid only for locally grown fruits, vegetables and cut herbs sold fresh. Prepared foods, dried or potted herbs, or decorative items like gourds, painted pumpkins and Indian corn do not qualify. They can be used at any Vermont farmers market now through October 31st that’s enrolled in Farm to Family. No cash change will be given. For more information, visit http://dcf.vermont.gov/esd/farm_to_family
NOFA Crop Cash Coupons are available at markets where EBT cards are accepted but supplies are limited. For each dollar of tokens purchased with 3SquaresVT funds, an additional $1.00 in Crop Cash coupons - up to $10.00 - is also issued. These apply towards purchases of fresh fruits and vegetables only. Markets will accommodate elderly or disabled customers who get their benefits as bank deposits rather than as electronic benefits. These are available now through October 31st or as long as supplies last. They’re usable only at the market where they are purchased, and no cash change will be given. For more information, visit http://nofavt.org/cropcash.
EBT & debit card tokens are available year-round at most farmers markets in the state. They’re applicable towards purchases of any market product except alcoholic beverages, prepared food served hot, and anything not intended for human consumption. You can use them for fruits and vegetables, as well as eggs, breads, cheeses, bedding plants, etc. Tokens are redeemable only at the market where they were purchased, and they’re available in $1.00 and $5.00 denominations, although cash change will only be given for $5.00 tokens. For a list of farmers markets that accept EBT, visit http://www.vermontfoodhelp.com/where-can-i-use-3squaresvt/farmers-markets