Colorful fruits and vegetables, fresh pasta, and homemade cheeses cover the stands in the parking lot at the corner of Station St. and N. Euclid in East Liberty. The expansive market’s enticing colors, smells, and activity attract many a regular customer, as well as anyone who happens to wander by.
Many farmers markets generally accept only cash, with a few technologically advanced farmers swiping credit cards. But thanks to the Fresh Access program, the East Liberty market and 17 other markets in the Pittsburgh area can now accept Access (EBT) cards. Food stamp shoppers swipe these cards in exchange for tokens to buy goods at the market. With tokens, customers can buy any products they would normally buy with their Access cards at grocery stores but get farmers market quality.
For Bonnie, an employee at a nearby public library, buying fresh food for herself and her son Andrew hasn’t always been easy. Bonnie has been a regular at the East Liberty market since she learned about the Fresh Access program four years ago. After learning about the program, Bonnie was ecstatic to find that fresh food was more accessible than ever.
Every week, Bonnie is sure to bring her Access card to the Fresh Access table and purchase enough tokens to stock up on vegetables for the week. When asked how the Fresh Access program has helped her, she replied that she is “more likely to eat healthy foods throughout the week.”
And Bonnie is not alone. Around 2/3 of Fresh Access customers in a 2015 survey of the program reported that the Food Bucks program increased their overall vegetable and fruit consumption.
Discovering New Foods
Besides the fact that it has increased her intake of nutritious foods, Bonnie loves the atmosphere at the market. The farmers will never hesitate to explain what their products of the week are, and the friendliness of the other customers is always an added bonus. The wide variety of produce that the market offers also impresses her. The fruits and vegetables are always more diverse than what is available in grocery stores.
Bonnie also spoke enthusiastically about the things she learns at the farmers market. She explained, “I’ve discovered new foods here – things I never knew existed because you don’t see them at the grocery store!”
One of Bonnie’s favorite discoveries has been that brussel sprouts grow on stalks. Musser Farm sells brussel sprouts still on the stalk, a surprise and novelty for many customers.
When we spoke with them this fall, Bonnie and Andrew were planning to return to the market every Monday until Thanksgiving (when this and most other area markets close), and again when the market re-opens in the spring. The Fresh Access program is an unwavering constant in Bonnie’s life, creating a pathway to fresh food every week.