ARROYO GRANDE, Calif. - Purchasing healthy produce at farmers markets is about to become more affordable for low-income residents.
The California Department of Agriculture recently received a $3.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture that will encourage people who receive food assistance to shop more at participating neighborhood farmers markets.
The Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive grant will help fund the California Nutrition Incentive Program (CNIP).
Created two years ago, CNIP was established to provide low-income residents with greater opportunities and incentives to purchase healthy food.
With the new grant, CNIP will now give more shopping power for people receiving assistance through CalFresh, which is commonly called food stamps.
CalFresh clients will in essence have their money doubled when purchasing fruits and vegetables at participating markets.
Currently, about 340 farmers markets in California accept CalFresh incentives, including several on the Central Coast.
According to Berkeley-based Ecology Center, a non-profit that focuses on improving the health and environmental impacts of residents, local participating markets including those in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero, Templeton, Grover Beach, Vandenberg Village, Solvang, Goleta and Santa Barbara.
The Arroyo Grande Farmers Market, held in the Smart & Final parking lot each Wednesday morning, does not participate in the CalFresh incentive program.
However, both shoppers and farmers at the market said they are supportive of the new program.
"It is needed and it's great because at the end of the month, you're struggling," said Connie Olivo.
The Grover Beach resident takes care of four of her grandchildren. Her trip Wednesday to the market only came after receiving money through another unnamed source.
"I came was because I was helped with $20 to buy the vegetables and it was a benefit for us, " Olivo said. "My family being low income, it helped probably because I wouldn't have been able to come today if it hadn't had been for the program that allowed us to come."
Olivo added she's happy to hear the state has received a grant to help those in need purchase much-needed fresh produce.
"It's important because when you don't have the income and the financial means, the government comes in and helps, your able to feed your children nutritious food," said Olivo.
For farmers, they too stand to benefit from the program. More customers at the markets will mean more sales.
"It allows the community to get very fresh produce," said Don Sparks, while selling corn grown at his Sparks Farms. "It's very fresh and that's what people generally want."
Sparks was happy to hear the government is encouraging healthier lifestyle through an improved diet.
"[It's] great for a lot people who are on the lower income side and it's always great for the government to help these people out, so they could have to sufficient funds to buy produce that's very fresh and good for them," said Sparks.
At the nearby Gracious Greens stand, Alvin O'Neal, who grows vegetables in his Grover Beach backyard, was also impressed with hearing news of the grant.
"I think it's great to use the state-funded abilities to purchase your local and healthier product than the boxed good that they're going to be buying that's pre-packaged and is all full of nasty stuff," said O'Neal.