New grant adds $1 million in fresh produce to L.A. shoppers' menus

Russ Parsons
The California Cook
Big federal grant will bolster popular Market Match program

A new grant from the Department of Agriculture will mean that as much as $1 million in fresh produce will be added to the shopping bags of Southern California’s low-income families over the next two years.

The grant to Berkeley’s Ecology Center that administers the Market Match program totals $3.7 million statewide. 

According to the Ecology Center, this will allow the program to reach an additional 240,000 shoppers statewide and will stimulate an additional $9.8 million in sales to California’s small farmers.

Market Match is an innovative setup that allows shoppers to double their EBT and WIC benefits when shopping at farmers markets. 

Participating shoppers use their benefits cards to receive chits that can be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables at the market. Market Match doubles the first $10 in benefits.

“This is going to fill in a big piece of puzzle in funding,” says Frank Tamborello, director of Hunger Action LA, one of the groups that will be receiving some of the grant.

“It’s going to allow us to add new markets — the Valley has been begging for the program and we’re hoping to get either Panorama City or someplace in that area. Another possibility is that at some markets we have limited budget, so we have to cut off Market Match after only an hour or so when we run out of money.”

Last year Market Match was available at 150 markets statewide, 22 in Southern California. With the grant, that number should increase to 36.

Ecology Center will divide the money among eight Southern California farmers market organizers — Downtown Santa Ana Farmers’ Market, Hunger Action Los Angeles (HALA), Palm Springs Cultural Center Certified Farmers’ Markets, Phelan Certified Farmers’ Market, Social Justice Learning Institute, Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles (SEE-LA) and Ventura County Certified Farmers’ Market, and International Rescue Committee.

The USDA funding comes from the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program, which was authorized under the 2014 Farm Bill. A total of $31.5 million was made available nationwide and Ecology Center’s grant was the fourth-largest in the country.

Ecology Center has administered the program since 2013. In that time, Market Match has grown from 130 to 234 outlets, including farmers markets, Community Supported Agriculture programs, farm stands and more.

“This is a four-way win,” says Tamborello. “It reduces hunger, especially among our senior population. It encourages healthy eating. It boosts the California small farm economy. And it supports environmentally sustainable agriculture.”

Are you a food geek? Follow me on Twitter @russ_parsons1

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times
58°