The Portland Farmers’ Market will soon launch a Friends of the Market program in which supporters donate $35 or more annually to support market access for low-income shoppers.

It may be the first such program in the state, according to Leigh Hallett, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets.

“It’s a fantastic model, so we’re excited to see it happening here,” Hallett said.

Many farmers markets in Maine, including the Portland market, accept federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefit cards, for low-income Mainers. Many markets also offer Maine Harvest Bucks, an incentive program which at the Portland market doubles the value of SNAP benefits. A shopper who pays $4 for broccoli with a benefit card at the Portland Farmers’ Market, for instance, actually takes home $8 worth of broccoli.

Maine Harvest Bucks are funded by a group of Maine nonprofits working with Wholesome Wave, a national nonprofit dedicated to food access. Together, the groups secured a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which requires a one-to-one match.

“For every dollar the Portland Farmers’ Market gives away in Maine Harvest Bucks, they have to raise $1 to support the program,” Hallett explained. The new Friends of the Market program in Portland is intended to raise money for that match.

Clara Moore, manager of the low-income access program at the Portland Farmers’ Market, said such fundraising programs are efficient. She grew up in St. Louis, where the local farmers market had such a program. She compared the friends program to fundraising membership programs used by public radio and television.

The market has held occasional fundraisers, including chef dinners, but the friends program would provide steady income and build support.

“The market has been around forever,” Moore said, “but this is to build a real community around it.”

The matching money will pay for the booth at the Portland market where benefits cards, credit and debit cards are processed; the machine that processes those cards and the tokens that are given out; Moore’s salary to run the low-income access program; outreach; and the complicated accounting that ensures individual farmers are reimbursed for SNAP and Maine Harvest Bucks purchases. Hallett hopes it will serve as a model for other markets around the state.

The Friends of the Market program gets its official kickoff on Feb. 21 at the Portland Farmers’ Market Farmer Games, an event pairing Maine farmers and local celebrities (brewmasters, chefs, etc.) in goofy-sounding but fun tests of market agility and strength. The event includes family-friendly carnival games and snacks, and it runs from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. at the market’s winter location, 84 Cove St. Admission is $5 per person or $10 per family.

To become a Friend of the Market, donate online at the market website or at the market information booth (winter market hours are 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays). Benefits include a market tote bag, a magnet, advance invitation to market events and invitations to Friends Only events.


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