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Finally, it’s farmers market season in Pittsburgh

A number of new farmers market programs are trying to make healthier food more and accessible accessible for low-income people

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Downtown’s Friday market - CP PHOTO BY JORDAN MILLER
  • CP photo by Jordan Miller
  • Downtown’s Friday market

Begone wilted vegetables in overly air-conditioned grocery stores! Citiparks farmers markets in seven communities are opening for the season with plenty of local and seasonal treasures to take home for dinner. 

Citiparks farmers markets serve as touchpoints for the community as well as places to pick up groceries. Live music, food vendors and local organizations often set up to provide entertainment, a little lunch and information to passersby. Spending your dollars with local vendors also helps to support the growth of the local food system and guarantees fresher produce. 

In past years, available goods and produce ranged from varieties of garlic to farm grown flowers to locally raised eggs, meats and vegetables. 

This season, Just Harvest is back with its Fresh Access program to help people of all income brackets enjoy farmers markets. This program enables shoppers to use food stamps (SNAP benefits) as well as credit and debit cards to purchase food at the markets. Launched in May 2013 at the Downtown and North Side markets, the program now operates at 21 farmers markets across the city — including at each of Citiparks’ locations. 

Fresh Access Food Bucks give food-stamp shoppers an extra $2 to spend on produce for every $5 spent in SNAP benefits. Most farmers markets also take Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks as well as both WIC and senior checks. Senior FMNP checks will be distributed at community senior centers on June 12. 

To use the Fresh Access program, find the market managers tent or look for Fresh Access signs. Customers with electronic benefit transfer cards, credit or debit cards can receive tokens that can be used as cash with various vendors to purchase fresh produce, baked goods, meats and dairy products. 

In 2014, a survey of 122 Fresh Access customers showed that 95 percent of food-stamp shoppers rated Fresh Access as “important” or “very important” in decisions to shop at farmers markets; 80 percent of food-stamp shoppers say produce consumption has increased as a result of the Fresh Access program; and 99 percent of food-stamp shoppers found the program easy to use.

Downtown’s Friday market kicked off the season on May 11, closely followed the next week by Mondays in East Liberty, Tuesdays in the South Side and the afternoon Friday market in the North Side. Markets on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays in Carrick, Beechview and Squirrel Hill, respectively. 

For more information on the Citiparks Farmers Markets schedule and the Fresh Access program, visit citiparks.net and justharvest.org/fresh-access.

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