The Milwaukee Market Match program, which doubles FoodShare dollars spent at farmers markets, is on track to be funded through 2024, thought it has yet to secure final approval from Milwaukee County.
Piloted in 2020 and 2021, the program allows FoodShare participants to double their purchasing power at a participating Milwaukee County farmers market, up to $20 per FoodShare account per day. FoodShare helps low-income residents buy healthy food.
During its 10-week pilot in 2020, Milwaukee Market Match was used by 793 households to purchase $19,653 worth of goods from vendors at five markets across Milwaukee County, according to data compiled by KaHoua Yang, a medical student at UW-Madison.
Yang’s figures come from her work evaluating Milwaukee Market Match as part of the Training in Urban Medicine and Public Health program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Milwaukee Market Match was renewed for 13 weeks in 2021 and was used by 1,697 households to purchase $78,077 worth of goods from vendors across four markets, nearly four times the amount of money spent in 2020. About 93% of the transactions in 2021 went to farmers vending at the Fondy Farmers Market in Lindsay Heights, according to Yang’s data.
To continue for the 2022, 2023 and 2024 farmers market seasons, which typically run roughly from May through November, community partners are hoping to secure funding through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. As part of federal COVID-19 relief efforts, Milwaukee County received $183 million in ARPA funds “to meet local needs and fund local solutions.” This is separate from the $394 million that the City of Milwaukee received for the same purpose.
The proposal, which can be read here, outlines the program’s budget. Of the $1 million ask, $750,000 goes directly to FoodShare members spending at the 11 participating farmers markets. Participating markets in the central city include the Fondy Farmers Market, located at 2200 W. Fond du Lac Ave., and Walker Square Farmers Market, located at 1031 S. 9th St.
The American Rescue Plan Act Task Force approved the proposal unanimously on April 14, but the proposal still needs to be approved by the Finance Committee and full County Board of Supervisors.
Robert Hullum, Milwaukee County spokesman, said no date has been set for the next Finance Committee meeting, adding that committee assignments will likely be made in the next few days. Once a Finance Committee chairperson is selected, they will decide whether to schedule the Milwaukee Market Match item for a meeting.
Meg Kilkenny, healthy communities coordinator at UW-Extension, said farmers and FoodShare members should not expect the program to be up and running at the start of the 2022 season until August at the earliest.
“I’ve been communicating with partners that we don’t anticipate this being launched until maybe mid-season this year,” Kilkenny said. “That is me being very hopeful.”
The proposal lists the Fondy Food Center, Milwaukee Farmers Market Coalition and the UW-Madison Extension FoodWIse program as “key implementers” of the program. Twenty-two other organizations are listed as supporting the proposal, including the American Heart Association, Metcalfe Park Community Bridges and Sixteenth Street Community Health Center.
Getting the word out
Katie Hassemer, the director of farmers markets at Fondy Food Center since 2015, said FoodShare members often don’t know that they can use FoodShare at a farmers market, much less double its purchasing power.
FoodShare members would sometimes learn about Milwaukee Market Match and come to a market expecting to double their incentives, only to discover the program was not running that day because funding had run out, she said.
Nevertheless, Hassemer remembers lines of people waiting to exchange FoodShare for coupons last summer.
“Before we even opened we had a line of people looking to double their FoodShare dollars,” Hassemer said.
“We would have two lines going with at least 20 to 50 people some days of people wanting to get double dollars, speaking multiple languages,” Hassemer said.
The two main goals of the program are to make it easier for people with low incomes to access fresh produce and to financially support local farmers in the process.
Amy Kroll-Scales, co-owner of Full Circle Healing Farm and a vendor who has received Milwaukee Market Match pilot program dollars, called the program a win for everybody. She said it “shouldn’t be a luxury” to eat healthy, and that this program makes it easier to do that.
She also noted that there is overlap between the two target populations the program intends to serve.
“To be honest, a lot of farmers are using EBT and Market Match themselves,” she said. “It’s not like farming is some lucrative six-figure business.”
A call to action
The American Heart Association is hoping to help rally community support for the program.
Tim Nikolai, who works on community outreach at the American Heart Association, said that often his role involves pushing out information on cardiovascular health. What excites him about Milwaukee Market Match is the opportunity to make it easier for Milwaukee residents to take action toward improving their heart health.
Nikolai invites those interested in showing support for this program to register for the Advocacy Day of Action, where they can learn more about the program and be trained to speak in support of the Milwaukee Market Match to elected officials. The event takes place from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, April 27.
For more information or to RSVP, email Nikolai at email@example.com