With summer right around the corner, so are afternoons spent at the farmers market.
La Crosse County has plenty to choose from, but not all of them are accessible to people who can't afford the cost of fresh fruits and veggies.
There are programs designed to help people who can't afford food - and one of them is the FoodShare program, which provides a monthly stipend to families via an electronic debit card system. But here in WIsconsin, those families can't always access fresh, healthy food, because their FoodShare cards aren't accepted by roughly two-thirds of the state’s farmers markets.
In fact, in La Crosse County, only the Cameron Park farmers market works with the program. FoodShare users can swipe their card at the park in exchange for tokens to be used.
Since the market opened its booths to FoodShare just last year, you can find even more food traffic here. According to Tiffany Lein, a county dietician, 500 transactions equaling up to nearly $10,000 took place just last year – though that includes both debit card and FoodShare use.
"Our hope or goal would be that every market in La Crosse County would [use the program],” Lein said. “Unfortunately, Cameron Park is the only one that's organized. Others are loosely organized and don't have that system in place, making that token system not feasible."
Because of the success they've seen here, FoodShare directors are hoping to increase access to the program in other farmers markets, with the hope of making a difference for everyone involved in the process.
"From a public health standpoint, we think it's very important as it increases access to food in addition to supporting our local family farmers,” Lein said.
The FoodShare program at Cameron Park also benefits people who want to just use debits cards, because they can swipe their card for tokens too.
About 15 percent of state residents use the FoodShare program, according to Lein.