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Ayako and Eigi Deguchi buy local produce from Marjorie Shew, who has been a part of the Athens Farmers Market for 26 years. “The Market has grown every year,” Shew said. “People want things that are fresher and grown by people they can talk to.” (Ross Brinkerhoff | FILE PHOTO)

Athens farmers accept food assistance

Although the use of food assistance issued by the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services has become a trend among Ohio farmers markets this year, the Athens market has been ahead of the pack for some time now.

Since 2006, the Athens Farmers Market has been accepting food assistance and about half of the vendors at the market accept the Ohio Direction Card, said AFM site manager Kip Parker.

“It benefits people because they can get fresher food rather than the stuff that has been sitting on a truck for a week,” Parker said.

The Ohio Direction Card is how food assistance is distributed through the ederal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called the Food Stamp Program, according to a news release from Ohio JFS.

As of June, 52 — or about 13 percent — of Ohio farmers markets accept food assistance. Though the number is low, the Athens market has pulled its weight, accounting for 50 percent of all of the food assistance accepted at markets in 2009, said Nick Claussen, the community relations coordinator for Athens County Job and Family Services.

As of May, 11,000 residents,  17 percent of Athens County, receive food assistance, Claussen said.

Except for Farmacy Natural Foods, 28 W. Stimson Ave., most of the places in Athens that accept food assistance are convenience or large grocery stores, such as Kroger and Walmart.

Claussen said Athens County JFS promotes the farmers market as a way of making recipients of food stamps aware of their options. In addition, Ohio JFS sends notification letters to food assistance recipients that live near accepting markets, according to the release.

Nearly $21,000 worth of food assistance has been spent at the Athens farmers market since 2006, Claussen said.

The program gives people on food assistance access to fresh and organic food and creates more business for local vendors, Parker said.“It gets good, wholesome food into everyone’s hands.”

Claussen still thinks more adjustments need to be made to the food assistance program.

“We would like to see more money. There is enough for food for three weeks, we would like to see (that become) a month.” he said.

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