It’s no secret that food produced on local farms often costs more than similar food that is mass produced, but that doesn’t have to be a barrier to getting fresh, local eats according to Johanna Doren, local food access coordinator at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT).
Many Vermonters qualify for “Crop Cash” or a number of other food access programs that significantly reduce the cost of food at farmers markets, farm stands, and through community supported agriculture (CSA) shares, Doren said in an interview this week.
Why Does Local Food Seem to Cost More?
Local foods may seem expensive compared with grocery store prices because massive farms around the country receive federal tax dollars that smaller, local farms generally do not, according to Rachel Carter, writing for the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.
She writes on the “UVM Food Feed” blog, “Large-scale farms that manufacture crops like corn and soy receive government subsidies to mass produce animal feed, which leads to overproduction of these crops. This creates a surplus of corn and soy, which industrial food manufacturers use to produce cheap ingredients — like high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil — for highly processed foods. Vermont farmers operate on a smaller scale with lower net incomes than large industrial-sized farms and most do not receive the same level of government assistance yet are faced with the same or even higher breadth of costs to produce food.”
Carter goes on to say “Even more challenging is that local farmers are trying to sell to consumers who are used to cheap food prices and are likely unaware they’re actually footing the bill at tax time for the government subsidies which industrial agriculture receives.”
Crop Cash for Farmers Markets
The organic farming association addresses the issue with its array of “Community Food Access” programs, including “Crop Cash” at farmers markets. For Vermonters receiving SNAP benefits (the federal USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), NOFA-VT offers Crop Cash that doubles their SNAP funds at farmers markets up to $10 per person per market.
Most markets, such as the Capital City Farmers Market, have a market manager booth, where customers can use an EBT card to exchange SNAP dollars for market tokens. Participants can get up to $10 in free tokens to use on fruits, vegetables, herbs, plant starts, and seeds, Doren said. The association then reimburses the market for the cost.
Doren said that 34 farmers markets around Vermont are participating in the program (see below for a list of central Vermont markets).
Reduced Prices at Farm Stands
The association also offers 50% off at farm stands to SNAP participants, Doren said, but so far just one stand is participating: Foote Brook Farm in Johnson. Doren is building out the program to include more farm stands, she said.
“At NOFA-VT we believe that everyone is entitled to access to fresh food from a local farm no matter their income,” Doren said in a phone interview. “These programs are designed to provide food accessibility to people who have limitations to what fresh food they can buy and also to compensate the farmers for that.”
The association’s Farm Share program offers up to 50% off the cost of CSA shares and is open to both low- and moderate-income Vermonters. A CSA share is a subscription to a season’s worth of fresh farm products distributed to the member weekly throughout the season.
The Farm Share program is “not strictly tied to income,” Doren said, “so we like to encourage people, if they feel that they need support financially in accessing a share from a farm, to apply for it. If they fall outside the federal poverty guidelines required for SNAP eligibility and can’t access SNAP or other programs, we want this to be a way that they can fill in some of those gaps.”
The Farm Share program has been operating for almost 30 years, Doren said, adding that it has assisted over 300 families this year, “which is a pretty big jump over the past three years.”
Learn more about NOFA-VT’s Community Food Access programs here, or go to or email Doren at firstname.lastname@example.org.