Local farmers, volunteers and staff of the Strafford County Public Health Network gather to close out the inaugural season of the Somersworth Farmers Market.
Local farmers, volunteers and staff of the Strafford County Public Health Network gather to close out the inaugural season of the Somersworth Farmers Market.

By Judi Currie

November 13. 2015 4:21PM

SOMERSWORTH – While living in a downtown area with a selection of restaurants and convenience stores works well for some, it can be a challenge when trying to feed a family on a budget.

Without transportation, even a vibrant downtown can become a food desert when it comes to accessing healthy affordable meals.

That is where the Somersworth Farmers Market comes in. Held every Thursday at Goodwin Community Health on Route 108, the market brought fresh food to a more accessible location.

Liz Clark, Somersworth Farmers Market Manager and Community Health Improvement Coordinator for Strafford County Public Health Network (SCPHN) said when the market wrapped up its first season at the end of September, it met its goal of improving access to fresh produce and reducing disparities to accessing healthy food.

“One of the great things about the market is that we were bringing the fresh produce to an area with a bus stop right out front,” Clark said. “So that helped to increase healthy eating.”

This season, SNAP/EBT members accessed a total of $5,799 to spend at the farmers market, $4,531 of which was distributed as free incentives through programs like market match and close the gap.

SNAP is the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program where benefits are now accessed using an EBT card; which works like a debit card.

Through the partnership with Seacoast Eat Local, SNAP/EBT users could get a weekly market match of up to $10.

“If they spent $10 on their card, they received an additional $10 free to spend on fruits and vegetables each week at the market.” Clark said. “Additionally, they received $20 free to spend on food at the market during the last week of the month as part of a program called ‘Close the Gap.’”

Clark said Close the Gap aimed to bridge the gap between the time recipients ran out of benefits until the card was refilled at the beginning of the next month.

“For many, the benefit is not enough to cover what the average person needs for food,” Clark said.

The success of the market was made possible by financial support from the Public Health Network and Stonewall Kitchen, partnership with Seacoast Eat Local and many volunteers from Goodwin Community Health.

Clark said the WIC program, administered through Goodwin Community Health, really helped drive customers to the market by letting them know about the matching programs and how far their benefits would go.

“I was really excited when I heard we would be accepting SNAP/EBT, but seeing it happen at the market really put it in perspective for me how important it was.” Clark said. “On more than one occasion, I saw participants cry when the received the Close the Gap funds.”

The Somersworth Farmers Market is an initiative of the SCPHN and Goodwin Community Health to address the obesity/nutrition public health priority as identified by the Strafford County Public Health Advisory Council.

The Somersworth Farmers Market is looking forward to bringing back the market next year from June through September. Clark said all of the vendors have already committed to return.

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