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Advocates Seek Continued Funding For Farmers' Markets

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Farmers market advocates are calling on Congress to continue funding for grants such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program. The program has supported efforts to bring food stamps to area markets, including Crossroads in Takoma Park, Maryland.
Jessica Gould
Farmers market advocates are calling on Congress to continue funding for grants such as the Farmers Market Promotion Program. The program has supported efforts to bring food stamps to area markets, including Crossroads in Takoma Park, Maryland.

Advocates for farmers markets say locally-sourced fruits and vegetables aren't just adding flavor to our refrigerators, they also spice up our economy. But supporters worry federal grants for farmers markets could soon disappear.

Ian Barclay's white hair dips below his shoulders, and his memory is just as long as his snowy locks.

"I grew up here, so I can remember when up country Montgomery County used to be lots of farms. And there's very few left," he says.

So these days, when Barclay wants a ripe tomato or crispy cucumber, he heads to the Crossroads Farmers' Market in Takoma Park.

"It's fresher and just finger lickin' good, too," he says.

When Barclay finds something that looks tasty, he hands a small, plastic card to a vendor.

"You just swipe the thing, and then through satellite or cell phone technology I guess, it confirms that you are indeed who you are and it helps me get something to eat," he says.

Barclay receives food stamps, and that little piece of technology allows him to shop at Crossroads.

"Anyway you can stretch your dollar is good to me," he says.

Those little machines come with big price tags, however, according to Jeffrey O'Hara, an economist with the Union of Concerned Scientists. "These are community grassroots organizations. They don't necessarily have the budget or means to buy the right equipment," he says.

O'Hara wrote a report issued by the Union of Concerned Scientists earlier this month that found that modest federal investment in farmers markets could provide hundreds of jobs.

The idea of subsidies for farmers markets isn't new. In the past, the federal government has shouldered some of the costs of the food stamp swipe devices through grants such as the Farmers' Market Promotion Program.

"These types of grants are given to help set up farmers' markets and help lower-income citizens redeem benefits at farmers' markets," O'Hara says.

But now, he's worried that support for these programs is about to dry up.

"Under Congressional budgeting these programs are going to disappear, and our concern is, given the language in Congress, that they're going to go away completely," he says.

The country may be on a financial diet, O'Hara adds, but it shouldn't cut out fresh fruits and vegetables.

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