Los Angeles Times
A reward for healthful eating
Market Match gives low-income shoppers more money to spend at farmers markets.
At 2 p.m. Wednesday, farmers at the Adams-Vermont growers market were busily popping up tents, setting up tables and unloading fruits and vegetables, getting ready to open.
But Frank Tamborello and his team were already in mid-market mode. They had to be. There were already 30 to 40 people in line waiting for them.
Tamborello’s group doesn’t sell peaches or strawberries or even kale. Instead, it helps administer a program called Market Match that since 2009 has been rewarding low-income shoppers with up to a $10 bonus for buying fresh produce at farmers markets.
Funded by a mix of grants, including $2.5 million over the next five years from First 5 LA, Market Match provides vouchers for SSI, EBT and WIC recipients to use while shopping at participating farmers markets.
In the Los Angeles area, that includes 20 markets — 15 administered by Tamborello’s Hunger Action Los Angeles, and five administered by Sustainable Economic Enterprises-Los Angeles — with more scheduled to come on through the summer.
The Adams-Vermont market, held on the parking lot at St. Agnes Catholic Church on West Adams Boulevard, was one of the first farmers markets in Southern California and was one of the first to offer Market Match.
It serves a predominantly low-income clientele and is action-packed, with as many as 1,200 shoppers crowding in elbow-to-elbow for the four hours it’s open.
Harry Brown-Hiegel, who recently returned to managing the market after having helped open it in 1980 — when he was a priest at the church — says more than 90% of the eligible shoppers at AdamsVermont use Market Match.
“The word’s out and they know about the program and that’s part of the reason they come,” Brown-Hiegel says. “People buying good food for young families, that’s the best there is.”
Tamborello says shoppers at the Adams-Vermont market use about $1,100 in Market Match vouchers a week.
New shoppers are coming onboard every week. LaTasha Evans recently lost her real estate job when her boss died. New to the benefits game, she researched her options thoroughly. “When I found out about Market Match, I was, like, ‘I’m on it!’ ” she says.
Wednesday she had filled her bags with chard, purple kale, butter lettuce, strawberries, plums, avocados and orange juice.
“This gives me an opportunity to make sure my children are eating healthy food,” says the 44-year-old mother of four. “I’ve got a 17-year-old daughter who is highly active in sports and cheer, and you can guess how hungry she is when she comes home.”
The program benefits not only shoppers, but California’s many small farmers as well. In a survey conducted by Market Match in 2013, 80% of farmers at participating markets reported that they sold more fruits and vegetables, and 66% said that they had made more money, as a result of the program.
Shopper Laura Gutierrez has lived in the West Adams neighborhood 11 years and works for a nonprofit ministry in the area.
“Being a low-income family, the Market Match program helps stretch our budget, allowing us to buy good, healthy food, right in our neighborhood,” she wrote in an email.
“Not only are we getting delicious, fresh, straight-from-the-farm produce and eggs, but now the price is cut in half! Why would I want to buy from a grocery store when all these benefits are available to me at this market, with this program? We love it and are continually thankful for it!”