|Kathie Maldonado shops at the Sara Hardy Farmers Market in downtown Traverse City. Maldonado uses her Bridge card to double her spending money up to $20 thanks to a new nonprofit program, Double-Up Food Bucks. (Photo: James Russell/MLUI)|
The good news for food lovers in northwest Lower Michigan is that the bustling Traverse City farmers market has extended its two-day a week market season for four more weeks. That means the popular market is open on Wednesdays this October, instead of just Saturdays.
And it’s also four more weeks before Congress gets back to work after the elections—and when House members ought to buck up and work to pass a Farm Bill that they let expire Sept 30. While you’re enjoying the extended farmers market season, also make some time to send a message to House members to pass the bill. The market and the bill are directly related. Here’s how:
Farmers requested the extra market days because their investment in growing food for the local economy is paying off in the very products that consumers have been demanding: “More farmers have extended their seasons through more use of hoop houses, allowing more volume of product into October,” noted the Oct. 1 press release from the Traverse City Downtown Development Authority, which manages the Sara Hardy Downtown Traverse City Market.
Without the Farm Bill, we lose important, innovative programs that help farmers and communities continue to build local food economies. And building local food economies creates more access to healthy and tasty food for those of us who eat (all of us) and more options for farmers in how they can make a living and provide jobs.
Farmers markets are a good example. The Farmers Market Promotion Program, a part of the Farm Bill, has provided funds for markets to expand and enhance services to customers. An expected new measure in the upcoming Farm Bill would provide funds for programs like the popular Double Up Food Bucks. This program, founded by the national nonprofit Fair Food Network in Ann Arbor and brought to our region by the Northwest Michigan Food & Farming Network, doubles the money that financially struggling families can spend with their SNAP Bridge Card when they buy food from farmers at farmers markets.
The Bridge Card is the new debit card for food stamps, and this year the Traverse City market has seen more than $20,000 in Bridge Card and Double Up sales just through August. Final September figures aren’t yet in, but it looks like there may have been another $10,000 in that month alone. And now there will be an extra four weeks of Wednesdays in addition to Saturdays for more Bridge Card and Double Up spending with our region’s farmers—120 vendors mostly from a seven-county area at the Traverse City market alone. At this time of year, the Traverse City market still has plenty of greens, apples, squash, pumpkins, meats, fish, and locally made bread.
Other innovative programs in the Farm Bill included grants to help farmers pay for hoop houses (greenhouses) and technical assistance for a variety of growing practices, including how to extend the growing season in the hoop houses so that you and I can eat fresh greens deep into the winter and as early as the snow melts in the spring. That provides income to farmers, and local-based jobs.
All of this—and much more—is endangered, because of the whims of politics. The Senate, under the leadership of Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, passed a bipartisan bill, and the House Agriculture Committee did, too. But the Republican House leadership refused to bring it to a vote, an unprecedented refusal.
As I noted in an earlier blog, some rank and file Republicans were as unhappy as farmers at the House leadership’s inaction. Your representative might be among them, so send a strong message to him or her to take back to Washington: Take action on the Farm Bill this year, and make sure it includes provisions that support local food economies, environmental stewardship, beginning farmers, local food for our kids in schools, and local food for those who receive a little financial help in hard times to buy food for their families’ tables.
Four more weeks of a wonderful market. And four more weeks to act. Click here to get contact information for your representative.
Farm Stand is the blog of the Food and Farming team at MLUI. Diane Conners is the senior policy specialist and directs the farm to school program.