CANTON - Food stamp usage increased 83 percent at farmers markets across St. Lawrence County this past season.
GardenShare Executive Director Aviva M. Gold said Monday that Massena, Norwood and Gouverneur markets as well as Martins Online Farmstand martinsfarmstand.locallygrown.net joined in the program last season thanks to a $10,000 grant from the states Fresh Connect Farmers Markets program.
Our goal was to double the amount of food stamps being used, so we got pretty close, she said.
Canton, Potsdam and Ogdensburg markets have been involved with the EBT/food stamp program for several years, according to Ms. Gold.
I had people shopping at the market last season that Ive never seen before, and Ive lived in Gouverneur my whole life, Gouverneur Farmers Market manager Lorraine W. Taylor said. Using food stamps for fresh fruits and vegetables is much better than having to go to a store to buy boxed mac and cheese or things like that.
Ms. Taylor said a farmer who joined in 2013, Steve Brooks of Heuvelton, had a very successful first season.
The food stamps brought out people who dont usually shop at the market, Ms. Taylor said.
Linda M. Kingston, Madrid, who participates in the Canton and Potsdam farmers markets, said she also had a successful season.
They now have debit card machines, which brings in more business because many people dont carry cash on them, she said.
Mrs. Kingston also said she noticed food stamps and coupons distributed through the North Country Childrens Clinics Women, Infants and Children program, bringing more business to the markets last season.
The food stamp increase didnt considerably increase business for all the markets, however.
Overall business throughout the county last season was only consistent with the previous year, according to Ms. Gold.
Ms. Taylor said that even with the addition of the food stamp program, the 2013 season was still slow for her four farmers and especially her crafters.
One can only guess, but I think its just the bad economy, she said. I really want to see the market grow.
The Canton Farmers Market has also been suffering from slower days the past two years, as the villages Main Street was under construction.
From vendor feedback Ive heard that the past two years were slow, said Zoe A. Baker, DeKalb, manager of the Canton Farmers Market.
This past season was Ms. Bakers first year as manager.
She said that although Canton had a winter market at First Presbyterian Church, 17 Park St., in 2012, vendors decided not to do one this year because of poor turnout.
There were only a handful of vendors and there wasnt a lot of turnout, so they said it wasnt really worth it, Ms. Baker said.
Ms. Gold said one of GardenShares main goals for this season is to make sure food stamps are available at every market in the county.