With National Farmers Market Week on the horizon, officials from the US Small Business Administration on Tuesday visited Brunswick’s market to discuss farmers’ roles in the local economy and tout the government’s plans to boost their businesses.
The Business Administration’s New England regional administrator, Mike Vlacich, was among the officials making a stop in Brunswick, joined by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.
“SBA is focused on increasing our outreach in rural communities to increase access to capital, help rural businesses export and increase the resiliency of rural communities through small business development,” Vlacich said. “We support events like National Farmers Market week by doing what we did today, by visiting the Brunswick Farmers Market. We are in our local neighborhoods showcasing local businesses and the great work they are doing to keep our economy strong.”
National Farmers Market week starts Sunday, Aug. 7. Farmers markets contribute $9 billion each year to America’s economy, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The number of farmers markets has quadrupled since 1994 from just under 2,000 locations to 8,600 this year, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.
“SBA encourages small businesses to engage locally, by selling at farmers markets, because to build a truly strong economy we need to embrace the principles of buying American-made local products whenever possible,” Vlacich said. “Farmers markets are a great place to do this, to meet customers face-to-face and facilitate business connections, especially through networking with fellow vendors.”
By way of traditional loan programs, Vlacich said SBA funded $205 million to Maine small businesses last year.
With one in eight households in Maine considered food insecure, some families shy away from farmers markets because they think it’s too expensive.
Jimmy Debiasi, executive director of the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets, said the agency partnered with the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to break down that barrier by creating Maine Harvest Bucks in 2015.
Maine Harvest Bucks is a nutrition incentive program that enables SNAP/EBT users to buy more fruits and vegetables from local farmers by receiving “bonus bucks” when they shop at local farmers markets.
Lost & Found Farm worker Izzy Ruffin called their partnership with SNAP “excellent.”
“I really appreciate the expansion to highlight local foods and local growers,” Ruffin said. “As someone who grew up in a low-income household, I couldn’t have imagined seeing my family able to shop at a farmers market. To see other families rewarded makes me happy as a farm worker and feel more connected to the community.”
Taking things a step further, MFFM partnered with local businesses in 2019 to start the Bumper Crop Program, in which employers award with gift certificates that can be redeemed at participating local farmers markets.
“Bumper Crop is a workplace wellness and employee appreciation solution for Maine employers of all sizes, promoting healthy local food and supporting Maine’s economy,” according to MFFM.
Employers who give out certificates are charged at the end of the fiscal year for any certificates redeemed.
Sixty-three percent of employees who used the program reported eating more fruits and vegetables and 41% reported shopping at farmers markets more often. Over 700 employees in the state participated, spending over $30,000 with gift certificates at 36 different markets in Maine. Of those same shoppers, 92% reported spending their own money as well, according to MFFM.
Pingree stressed the key role farmers markets play in the local economy this time of year.
“Many tourists come to Maine to eat our seafood and fresh produce, and even bring it home to cook,” she said. “Agriculture is a really critical part of the Maine economy.”
Obituary: Daniel Richard Brillant Sr.