By Faiza Hasan
The Maryland Farms and Families Act (SB 278/HB586), legislation pending in the Maryland legislature, would establish the Maryland Farms and Families Fund through the Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA). The fund would support the Maryland Market Money program (MMM), an initiative which matches purchases made with federal nutrition benefits at participating Maryland farmers markets.
MMM is a state-wide currency, in the forms of tokens and vouchers, distributed to participants in federal nutrition programs who use their benefits at participating farmers markets. The tokens and vouchers can be spent on any supplemental nutrition assistance program eligible foods at any participating markets, allowing customers to purchase fresh, healthy, local foods. The MMM program is currently in place at 21 farmers markets in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties. According to the Maryland Farmers Market Association, the MMM program has generated $1,148,150 for over 400 farmers at participating markets since 2010.
Proponents of the Act provide that the annual state investment, created if the Act passes, will benefit farmers in many ways. The funding will increase farmers market sales for all participating markets, facilitate MMM program expansion to small or rural markets lacking the infrastructure to operate the program, and make Maryland eligible to apply for additional federal grant funding for farmers market programs. If passed, Maryland would join four other states (California, Illinois, Minnesota, and New Mexico) and the District of Columbia as jurisdictions which commit state funds to farmers market matching programs. Opponents to the Act are concerned about its need for annual funding and how that budgetary commitment could negatively impact existing programs.
The hearing for this Act will be held in the Maryland senate on February 16 at 1:00 p.m. and in the house on February 21 at 1:00 p.m. If you desire to comment and are unsure how to contact your state representative regarding this Act, go here and type in your home address. You will be prompted with a list of your federal and state representatives. Click on your state representative and you will be linked to a page which includes their contact information.
If the Act becomes a law, MDA will adopt regulations defining the qualifications for nonprofit organizations to receive the grant funding and following the finalization of the regulations, MDA will administer the grant program.