The Texas Center for Local Food (TCLF) was recently invited to attend and speak at the Small Food Producers Conference hosted by Grow Local South Texas in Corpus Christi. This comprehensive event was designed to offer educational presentations catering specifically to the needs of small farms, ranches, cottage food businesses, and homesteaders. The conference agenda featured a diverse range of sessions and presentations, addressing topics from urban conservation to soil health and small business growth, providing a comprehensive and enriching experience for small food producers. This particular event aligned with TCLF’s goal to provide knowledge and resources to small food producers and was a valuable opportunity to listen to the needs and challenges of our audience.
This year, TCLF chose to present on the importance of accepting SNAP at farmers markets and the outcomes of our project, “A Fresh Look at Your Farmers Market.” SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as Food Stamps), is a food allowance given to shoppers on a monthly basis. It is the nation’s most successful anti-hunger program and is a powerful stimulus when used with local food businesses. The Fresh Look project has two goals: to increase the number of farmers markets that accept SNAP and to increase SNAP sales at markets already accepting SNAP, thereby increasing the amount of money going directly to producers’ pockets. The second year of this project is almost wrapped up, so we were happy to present positive outcomes to the project, including providing one-on-one technical assistance to 37 Fresh Look partner sites and saving our partners over $15,000 in signs and social marketing promotion.
The event that stood out to us most wasn’t a presentation; it was a lunchtime town hall-style discussion. This discussion aimed to understand the challenges and obstacles that food producers encounter when selling at farmers’ markets. As one farmer pointed out, “We grow, harvest, clean, package, and drive to the market ourselves. It’s hard enough just to make it to the market in time.” Wearing multiple hats – from entrepreneur to ecologist and marketer – is the reality for small food producers. Many of them expressed a shared aspiration: building a consistent customer base to sustain their operations and to contribute to Texas’ food supply. Farmers are the cornerstone of TCLF’s work, and we were honored to be present in that discussion. It allowed us to contemplate how we can further connect farmers with resources and peer-to-peer learning opportunities.
After the event ended, one food producer caught up with us in the parking lot to talk more about accepting SNAP. “We’re so thankful,” she said. “This program has been great not just for us, but for our local community, too.” As we continue to collaborate and build bridges within the Texas food system, events like these reaffirm our commitment to supporting local food producers.