A pilot program to bring more fresh produce to low-income shoppers through the Toledo Farmers' Market has been successful so far and could expand further, organizers said.
The market scheduled three days this summer to offer local produce for sale in a new location -- the parking lot of Lucas County Job and Family Services.
The last scheduled market of the pilot program is Wednesday from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. in the lot at 3210 Monroe St. The market accepts cash as well as credit and food-stamp cards.
"It has been very successful," said Dan Madigan, executive director of the market. "We're definitely going to continue it -- it's just a matter of what the frequency will be." Mr. Madigan estimated each of the two market days so far attracted between 300 and 400 customers.
"It has been a real treat to have a market that has been so well received," Mr. Madigan said.
The new location aimed to capture shoppers from the nearly 400 agency employees, as well clients and others in the neighborhood such as the nearby Boys & Girls Club and Toledo Area Ministries.
Making the market more accessible to customers who might be shopping with food stamps benefits not only low-income consumers, but also farmers and the local economy, said Deb Ortiz-Flores, executive director of Lucas County's Job and Family Services agency.
Andy Keil, who runs a family farm in Swanton and sells his produce at the market, said he was a skeptic at first about the new location, but said it has been profitable for him.
"I did the same [business] there as what I did at the Westgate Market," he said, referring to the West Toledo market location. Mr. Keil sells homegrown produce including sweet corn, cabbage, melons, peppers, and squash. He said the "double-up bucks" program, which doubles the purchasing power of food stamp customers up to $20, has been especially helpful to him.
The amount of money that food-stamp shoppers have spent at the Toledo Farmers' Market has climbed steadily in recent years, from about $1,500 in 2007 to more than $50,000 in 2011.
Shoppers have spent about $2,000 using food stamps at the two markets at the Jobs and Family Services site so far this summer, Ms. Ortiz-Flores said.
Lucas County Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said the new location is convenient for people who can't get to the market's downtown or West Toledo locations.
"I think we're sending the message to the entire community about purchasing local food. We're sending the message about eating healthy and that eating healthy doesn't have to cost more," she said. She said the market tentatively plans to add a day in October at the JFS office as well as continue next summer.
Ben Johnson, a spokesman for the state Department of Job and Family Services said that although many farmers' markets across the state have taken steps to be more accessible to food-stamp users, he was aware of only one other county JFS agency, in Athens County, that had brought a market directly to clients at its own site.
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