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Farmers markets expand food reach

The Carlton County Farmers Market opens for the 2023 season 9 a.m.-12 p.m. Saturday, June 3. Each year - and each week - the market offers a different mix of freshly-picked local produce, cottage foods (home-processed or home-canned pickles, vegetables or fruit) and artisan crafts. After a long winter and many hours spent tending plants in fields and hoop houses, farmers also look forward to renewing connections and making new friends in the local foods community.

Julie and Sam Jacobson from Lost Lake Maple Syrup will be back with maple-roasted nuts and handpainted maple cookies, plus maple sugar and syrup. Mike Little has transplanted dozens of pepper, broccoli and tomato seedlings. New member Kayli Staubus crafts handmade books and journals, and Deborah Winchell of Lake & Sky, encouraged by her friends, has turned her skill for creating delicious granola flavors into a home-based business.

At 40 years and counting, our market is part of a well-established network of 350 farmers markets around the state. Like other markets, we have been able to introduce food access programs in recent years by partnering with state and federal hunger-reduction programs. About 100 markets around Minnesota now offer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of lower-income families, so they can purchase healthy food as they move toward self-sufficiency.

In the past, the equipment and administration to offer programs like SNAP were too expensive and time-consuming for many self-funded, volunteer-driven markets to afford. Now, with targeted help to reduce these costs, the Carlton County Farmers Market is able to provide SNAP, so that eligible customers can buy a wide variety of local farm products, baked goods, and even food-producing plants.

"Market Bucks" provided by Minnesota's Hunger Solutions substantially increase the purchasing power of SNAP. When SNAP participants use their EBT cards at the farmers market, they can receive a 2-to-1 match in Market Bucks (up to $10). So, if a SNAP participant spends $10 in SNAP money at the market, they'll receive an additional $10 in Market Bucks to spend on SNAP-eligible items plus $10 in Produce Market Bucks to use for fresh fruits and vegetables.

This efficiently designed program benefits local food producers as well as SNAP participants. Lower-income folks gain more opportunities to purchase locally produced food. Market vendors can serve a wider range of customers, and, because Market Bucks are linked to SNAP, it's easier for markets to administer.

This year, most farmers at the Carlton County Farmers Market have also joined the Senior/Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Low-income seniors and WIC (Women, Infants & Children) participants receive vouchers to purchase fresh, unprepared, locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs from authorized farmers at the market. Farmers markets have always strived to provide fresh, local products to the whole community. Now, with programs such as SNAP/EBT and S/FMNP, the Carlton County Farmers Market is able to accomplish that even better.

The Cloquet market is located in front of Premiere Theatres, 904 Hwy 33 S., Cloquet. The Carlton market opens Tuesday, June 20, from 4 to 6 p.m. in McFarland Park, Hwy 210 and Grand.

Writer Gail Olson is the Cloquet site manager for the Carlton County Farmers Market and a Minnesota Farmers Market Association board member.