The undersigned members of Maryland’s agricultural community write to express our strong support for inclusion of funding for the Maryland Farms and Families Program in the 2018 state budget.
The Maryland Farms and Families Act, which passed unanimously through both houses during the 2017 legislative session and which you signed into law this May, created an unfunded grant program within the Maryland Department of Agriculture that would support “matching” programs at Maryland farmers markets. Farmers market matching programs provide a dollar-for-dollar match for purchases made using federal food assistance at participating farmers markets throughout Maryland, thereby connecting food-insecure Marylanders with quality, fresh foods produced by Maryland farmers.
Farmers market matching programs, which were first introduced in Maryland and have rapidly proliferated throughout the country, are a win-win: the same dollar simultaneously supports Maryland farmers and provides our state’s most vulnerable households with critical access to nutritious foods.
A modest state investment of $500,000 would provide tremendous benefit to farmers and families alike. These funds would:
o Generate revenue for farmers and agricultural producers:Farmers market matching programs drive federal nutrition benefits spending to farmers and small agricultural businesses and broaden the market’s customer base.
o Channel federal dollars into the local Maryland economy:As low-income Marylanders utilize their federal food assistance directly with local farmers, economically healthy farmers, in turn, strengthen the Maryland economy with spending and jobs.
o Benefit farmers markets statewide, particularly in rural and food desert communities:State funds would support capacity building for farmers markets that do not currently have infrastructure to operate matching programs, of particular benefit to markets in rural areas.
o Provide critical nutrition assistance: Federal nutrition benefits allotments are insufficient for affording an adequate healthy diet. Matching programs increase the purchasing power of low-income households to access quality, nutritious food.
Moreover, state funding would lay the groundwork for a thriving public-private partnership. Since 2013, the non-profit Maryland Farmers Market Association has operated Maryland Market Money (MMM), a farmers market matching program in place at 24 markets spanning the state, almost entirely with private dollars. MDFMA has distributed more than $460,000 in MMM matching dollars, generating over $1.4 million in revenue for local producers. State investment would enable this and other farmers market matching programs to leverage private funding, supporting Maryland’s hard-working farmers and our neighbors in need.
As farmers, ranchers, and other members of Maryland’s agricultural community, we thank you for supporting the state’s food producers by signing the Maryland Farms and Families Act. We hope to see you make this commitment to the agriculture community a reality by funding the bill in the 2018 state budget.