Promoting healthy eating

United Community Action Partnership partners with farmers markets

MARSHALL — Summer usually brings fresh eating of garden produce, a healthy addition to any diet — as long as you can afford it.

Margaret Palan, community resource coordinator at United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) in Marshall, is working with the area farmers markets and other partners to ensure healthy eating is available to everyone.

“United Community Action Partnership (UCAP) along with partnerships of University of Minnesota (U of M) Extension and SHIP (Statewide Health Improvement Program) also known as A Healthier Southwest have been collaborating with farmers markets in southwest Minnesota to bring EBT/SNAP (Electronic Benefits Transfer/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and credit/debit payment options to interested markets,” Palan said.

“As a SNAP Outreach grantee, UCAP does outreach and application assistance with the SNAP Program,” she said. “We are able to share information about farmers markets programs and show clients how to stretch their EBT benefits at the local farmers markets. We are pleased to partner with Hunger Solutions to encourage clients to use Market Bucks. Market Bucks match up to $10 of SNAP benefits to help customers at the market buy fresh and local produce. This helps everyone eat healthy and boosts the local economy.”

 The YMCA is the fiscal host of the Marshall Farmers Market.

“Executive director Tom Bolin and the board have been so great in the organizational and grant writing process for the farmers markets,” Palan said. “This past year the YMCA/Healthier 56258 allowed their VISTA volunteer, Faith Depuydt, to work all year with the market assisting with the bookkeeping and meeting agendas, which was another huge help. U of M Extension has been an ongoing partner of both the Market and UCAP. They offer classes/tours at the Market, which involves educating participates on choosing and cooking healthy food options.  

“A Healthier Southwest (through SHIP) has been a partner since day one as well,” she said. “They have granted dollars for items needed to set up the four information booths at our four farmers markets for things such as tents, tables and tokens. This year they granted dollars for a market information booth coordinator. Schwan’s has been a partner for many years by letting the vendors use their land to host the market. This has been so much appreciated by all vendors.”

The United Way of Southwest Minnesota is partnering with the market this season with the new POP (Power of Produce) Program. With POP, Kids ages 4-12 will receive a $2 coupon at the market on designated days to go visit the vendors displays and purchase produce. All of these partners made it possible so the community can enjoy the many benefits of the market.

“It would not have happened without them,” Palan said.  

The partnership works by collaboration and by pooling their resources.

“Together we are stronger and can make a bigger impact. Building relationships is the foundation of the Farmers Market Initiative,” Palan said. “Healthy initiatives in the southwest region have really grown in the past few years. Rural Minnesota is making some noise as the metro groups are traveling to Greater Minnesota to see the great work that is being done. Bringing the EBT/SNAP benefits to farmers markets have been slowly grown through the state for years. It just wasn’t ever in southwest Minnesota until last year.”

Only through partnerships did this happen, and it wouldn’t have happened without each of one of them, she said. This work load is simply too much, but together it was accomplished.

 With three markets in full operation last summer using the card reader, over $14,000 was turned into the local vendors through EBT, credit cards and Market Bucks.

“You can see where it not only benefits the local vendors but the local economy as well,” Palan said. “Families and individuals come to the markets, and then they shop in town.”

“I froze or canned all my vegetables for the winter like I used to do many years ago, said an EBT customer.

They were so happy to use their benefits at the market and came every week to purchase a little at a time. 

“I can’t believe how much produce I can buy for $20,” another customer said.

They used their EBT card for $10 and then received a $10 in matching Market Bucks. They can repeat this at each market day if they have benefits left to spend.  

How it works: wooden tokens are given to the customers as they swipe their EBT or credit/debit cards in the card reader at the Information booths at the local markets. They receive $1 for EBT and $5 credit. Customers make purchases with these at the vendors who accept this type of payment by posting a sign at their booth. POP coupons of $2 are also added to these signs and sponsored by another partner of the market this season, United Way of Southwest Minnesota.

“We are excited about this new program to teach the kids about eating fresh produce, so watch the market Facebook page and YMCA postings for special dates of these event days,” Palan said. “The vendors then turn in their tokens/coupons at the end of market day and receive reimbursement monthly through the market fiscal host.

 “We had 191 new customers last summer at the Marshall Farmers Market who had never been there before. Being able to use their EBT/SNAP cards brought in a lot of new customers, and they tell me they can’t wait for this summer.”

Many cultures visit the market as the vendors have a great variety of produce and other foods to offer the community, Palan said. Clients can take a market shopping tour class through the U of M Extension, offered by a local SNAP educator. If anyone is interested they can contact the local Extension office or call UCAP.

Volunteers run the information booth at the local markets. They have market flyers, including information on the spend $10 Get $10 special.

All this started when UCAP took a look at a Minnesota map showing all the farmers markets in the state where they accepted EBT at their market.

“The southwest Minnesota region was totally empty,” Palan said. “The University of Minnesota Community Partnership Grant came out, and it looked like a perfect match for this project. Angie Larson of UCAP, wrote the grant, and we were selected as one of 16 recipients in the state.

“Immediately we went to work along with our partners; U of M Extension and SHIP for the Southwest Minnesota Region. Fiscal hosts came on board next in which you need to obtain an EBT card reader for the markets.”

This summer Music at the Market will be a new addition to the Marshall Market which starts on Saturday July 8.  Music sponsors are the Marshall Farmers Market, Southwest  Minnesota ARTS Council, Marshall Community Foundation, Bremer Bank, YMCA and United Community Action Partnership.

Participating southwest Minnesota farmers markets

Marshall Farmers Market: July 8-October 

Saturdays: 7:30 a.m.-noon

New Location: Parking lot between Schwan’s and the YMCA


Pipestone: June-October

Wednesdays: 4:30-6:30 p.m.

Saturdays: 8-11 a.m.

Location: Carrow’s True Value Parking lot — downtown Pipestone, 207 East Main Street


Redwood Falls:July 11-October

Tuesdays: 2:-5:30 p.m.

Saturdays: 9 a.m.-noon

Location: Corner City Parking lot of Washington St. & Bridge St. (Minnesota State Highway 19) 


Worthington markets:  

Tuesdays: 4-7 p.m.

Location: Downtown parking lot near the fire station

Saturdays: Ace Hardware parking lot- 6:30 a.m.-noon


Luverne market: 

Thursdays:  June-October  4-7 p.m.

Redbird Field (east on Main Street, on the west side of the Rock River)