SALEM — Fresh, healthy foods don't come cheap, and for those relying on food stamps to help feed their families, shopping at the local farmers market can be a luxury that many simply can't afford.
More than a year ago, however, Salem's weekly farmers market began accepting Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. And this summer, market organizers are taking things a step further with the implementation of the Double Value Token Program.
Shoppers can now present their EBT card when they purchase their market tokens, and for every dollar purchased the market is doubling the amount, allowing them to purchase more freshly grown and prepared products.
Market coordinator Jane Lang said the program allows families to buy produce that is packed with nutrients and has a longer shelf life than fruit and vegetables trucked in from hundreds of miles away.
The state's EBT program allows needy residents to purchase various fresh, frozen and canned grocery items, as well as seeds and plants for growing their own food at home.
The market is trying to obtain sponsorship funds from various community organizations to help keep the Double Value program afloat but has been unsuccessful so far.
That hasn't stopped them from moving forward with the program.
"We haven't been awarded any grants for this," Lang said. "But there's still such a huge need for this, we decided to go ahead with it. There are so many people out there in our communities that rely on food stamps, including our seniors."
Community donations are being accepted to assist with the new program, and those who wish to help out can do so through a PayPal account set up on the market's website.
With nearly 1,300 fans on the market's Facebook page, Lang said that if each of those fans donated $1, she'd have more than enough to keep the Double Value program running through the summer.
"I've always had a passion for giving back, and we want people to feel good about shopping at the market," she said.
Officials from Salem and surrounding communities lauded the program for its efforts to assist those in need.
Windham Community Development Director Laura Scott called it a "win-win."
"It's great to support local farmers, and at the same time it's helping people with limited incomes access local food," Scott said.
Lang, who admitted that the market has been scrutinized by some for accepting food stamps as payment, said she's also open to the idea of allowing low-income residents who don't quite qualify for food stamps to participate in the program.
"We realize there's a lot of people out there working two or three part-time jobs — people that are struggling to feed their families even though their income is above the EBT requirement," Lang said. "Either way, every dollar we get puts that extra dollar into a family benefitting from fresh produce picked from local farms."
Those who wish to assist the program may send checks to: Salem NH Farmers Market, PO Box 213, Salem, NH 03079.
The farmers market, located at Lake Street Garden Center in Salem, is open every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Summer market hours will remain the same through late October.
For more information, visit www.salemnhfarmersmarket.com or call Lang at 339-8424.