Brunswick Farmers Market attracts visit from US Small Business Administration

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Izzy Ruffin sells Maine wild blueberries for Lost & Found Farm at the Brunswick Farmers Market. Maria Skillings / The time record

With National Farmers’ Market Week on the horizon, officials from the US Small Business Administration visited the Brunswick market on Tuesday to discuss the role of farmers in the local economy and tout the government’s plans to boost their businesses .

Business Administration New England Regional Administrator Mike Vlacich was among the officials stopping over in Brunswick, joined by Congresswoman Chellie Pingree.

“The SBA is focused on increasing our reach in rural communities to increase access to capital, help rural businesses export, and increase the resilience of rural communities through small business development,” Vlacich said. “We support events like National Farmer’s Market Week by doing what we did today, visiting the Brunswick Farmer’s Market. We’re in our local neighborhoods to showcase local businesses and the great work they do to keep our economy strong.

National Farmer’s Market the week starts on Sunday August 7th. Farmers’ markets contribute $9 billion to the US economy each year, according to the US Department of Agriculture. The number of farmers’ markets has quadrupled since 1994, from just under 2,000 locations to 8,600 this year, according to the Farmers Market Coalition.

“The SBA encourages small businesses to engage locally, selling at farmers’ markets, because to build a truly strong economy, we must embrace the principles of buying local, made in the United States whenever possible” , Vlacich said. “Farmers’ markets are a great place to do this, to meet customers face-to-face and facilitate business relationships, especially through networking with other vendors.”

Through traditional loan programs, Vlacich said the SBA funded $205 million to Maine small businesses last year.

With one in eight households in Maine considered food insecure, some families avoid farmers’ markets because they think it’s too expensive.

Jimmy Debiasi, executive director of the Federation Of Maine Farmers Markets, said the agency partnered with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, to break down this barrier by creating Maine Harvest Bucks in 2015.

Maine Harvest Dollars is a nutrition incentive program that allows SNAP/EBT users to buy more fruits and vegetables from local farmers by receiving “bonus bucks” when they shop at local farmers markets.

Lost & Found Farm employee Izzy Ruffin called their partnership with SNAP “excellent.”

“I really appreciate the expansion to showcase local foods and local producers,” Ruffin said. “As someone who grew up in a low-income home, I couldn’t have imagined seeing my family being able to shop at a farmers’ market. Seeing other families rewarded makes me happy as an agricultural worker and feels more connected to the community.

Going a step further, MFFM partnered with local businesses in 2019 to launch the Bumper Harvest Program, where employers award workers gift certificates that can be redeemed at participating local farmers markets.

“Bumper Crop is a workplace wellness and employee appreciation solution for Maine employers of all sizes, promoting healthy local food and supporting the Maine economy,” according to MFFM.

Employers who surrender certificates are billed at the end of the fiscal year for any certificate redeemed.

Sixty-three percent of employees who used the program said they ate more fruits and vegetables, and 41% said they shopped at farmers’ markets more often. More than 700 state employees participated, spending more than $30,000 in gift certificates at 36 different Maine markets. Of those same shoppers, 92% said they also spent their own money, according to the MFFM.

Pingree highlighted the key role farmers’ markets play in the local economy at this time of year.

“Many tourists come to Maine to eat our fresh seafood and produce, and even take it home to cook,” she said. “Agriculture is a really vital part of Maine’s economy.”

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree samples raspberries from vendors at Fairwinds Farm. Maria Skillings / The time record

MP Chellie Pingree (left) buys homemade pretzels from Steve Peters’ bakery, Hootenanny. Maria Skillings / The time record

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