Farmers market art raises money for SNAP users

GREENFIELD — When it came to figuring out how to keep low-income customers coming to Greenfield’s monthly Winter Market for fresh local produce, Eveline MacDougall found it was a snap.

MacDougall, a regular customer for years at the Greenfield Farmers Market, has found a way to raise money so food stamp recipients can get twice as much fresh produce.

Aware the farmers market was in need of a cash infusion to help pay for doubling the benefits of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamp shoppers, the Davis Street woman realized she could use her greeting card-making skills around the theme “In Praise of Farmers” as a fundraiser .

Her colorful “Sweet Pea Cottage Industries” cards will be available by donation at today’s Greenfield Winter Market, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Greenfield High School. The market, held the first Saturday of each winter month, has 23 vendors, according to its organizers.

The “Double Your Money” SNAP program, now in its third year, started with state grants as a way of giving low-income residents access to local produce while also boosting the market for local producers. Now funding for the program — which last year provided $1,000 toward purchases by farmers market customers with SNAP cards — comes entirely from charitable benefits, says Devon Whitney-Deal, a Winter Market steering committee member: a bake sale here, a raffle for a basket of local products there and twice from an event called the Great Crepe Fundraiser by “The Two Tarts.”

MacDougall, who began her card-making business as a way of recycling, working from home, and getting people to write letters, said she launched Sweet Pea when a friend gave her hundreds of file folders, which she began decorating with magazine photos, rubber stamps and upholstery swatches that she’s found.

“People love them,” she said.

When a friend gave her a book they’d recovered from a local dump about rural America in the 1970s, she took a look at the photographs and up sprang an idea “In Praise of Farmers.”

MacDougall has matched the images with quotations from poet Wendell Berry and others singing the praises of agriculture that are depicted on the cards.

“As long as there’s a few farms out there, we’ll keep fighting for them,” reads one from singer Willie Nelson. Another quotes the late Heath and Ashfield gardener Elsa Bakalar: “Gardening is the slowest performance art.” Yet another quotes Pope John XXIII: “Italians come to ruin most generally in three ways: women, gambling and farming. My family chose the slowest.”

The cards, which come with envelopes made from calendar pages depicting produce and flowers, “are something I can do when I’m home-schooling my kid. And this is my way of supporting farmers,” along with shopping regularly at the farmers market.

Whitney-Deal, who sees an average of about 20 people a week use the double-value SNAP program at the market, added, “This gives low-income families more food in the end, which is important because the budget is so limited in what the government gives them to begin with. And unfortunately, people on SNAP, the first place they think of to purchase food is from large chain grocery stores, because they think it’s so much less expensive. This is one way that markets are trying to entice people to see for themselves that the prices aren’t that much higher and you can get fresh, local delicious food unlike what you can get at the grocery store. It’s given them access to local food that they wouldn’t perhaps have thought of otherwise.”

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