A statewide farmers market program that began in 2019 with one employer and a handful of Bangor-area markets has spread to 47 employers and nearly 50 markets.
bumper cropA Maine Federation of Farmers Markets program allows employers to obtain gift certificates for their employees to spend on fresh local foods at farmers markets across the state.
Executive Director Jimmy DeBiasi said the program is a way to support farmers and vendors while giving employees the opportunity to invest in their health. A wide range of employers are offering or exploring ways to give employees new avenues of wellness, and a solution that also helps Maine’s economy, he said.
“We are in a tight labor market and working in a stressful environment,” he said. “Employers are designated to provide these to employees.”
And the program is getting success. Last year, when there were 23 participating employers in the Bumper Crop program, nearly 700 employees spent $30,000 in certificates, according to the federation’s impact report.
Based on the survey questions, the federation knows that those redeeming certificates usually spend their money in the markets as well. DeBiase said this equated to somewhere between $56,000 and $80,000 in additional cash sales.
“Manners value local food in general and like to support local farms,” he said. “The convenience of the modern grocery store is that it is almost 24/7. Many of us develop the habit of being able to shop whenever we want, but this comes at the cost of shopping locally.”
DeBiasi said shopping at farmers markets allows people to learn something new or try a vegetable they might not otherwise consider, as well as interact with people who grow Maine’s foods. Huh.
Being a member of BumperCrop doesn’t come at a cost to employers and farmers’ markets, although the federation will develop a revenue model to keep the program sustainable. Employers only pay for certificates that their employees redeem in the markets.
Debiasi said the federation realized the immense value of the program after a pilot with the city of Bangor and some of the markets there and nearby towns such as Brewer and Orono.
Bangor’s clinical program coordinator Jennifer Theriault and a wellness committee contacted the federation in 2019 because it wanted to give employees coupons or vouchers for produce and organic foods, she said. That year, 135 employees requested the certificate.
That’s up to more than 300 employees, she said. Bangor has used almost half of its wellness funding on the program this year as people become more aware of it and thus the market options have expanded.
Theriault thinks more workers see the state of today’s economy as another factor, and certificates can really help with grocery bills, she said.
“It also just puts us tens of thousands of dollars [the city of Bangor] In these farmers at the local level, which is good,” she said.
Bangor signed BumperCrop in 2020 at MenHealth’s Penn Bay Medical Center in downtown Lewiston and Rockport. The federation wasn’t sure what to expect for the summer farmers’ market season when the pandemic struck, so it focused on growth. program ahead of the official launch in 2021, DeBiase said.
It used portions of a $160,000 grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Farmers Market Promotion Program to create the website, branding and promotional materials. Funding is also used to print certificates and materials, for data collection and analysis, and to pay employees of the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, which help employers recruit.
DeBiasi said the federation plans to build a toolkit to share with others across the country. He thinks similar initiatives may exist on a smaller scale in communities outside Maine, but he is not aware of other statewide programs such as Bumper Crop.
This year, with 47 employers, the federation expects workers to cash out $75,000 in certificates, DeBiasi said. About $110,000 is in circulation, meaning it is in the hands of employers or already given to employees to spend in the markets.
Some employers give certificates to patrons and use them for other reasons, such as Lee Auto Mall, which has 16 car dealerships across the state. For the second year, the company Donated over $15,000 in bumper crop certificates To Main Public, which gave them membership campaign donors.
Maine Beer Company joined the bumper crop program last year. The company bought certificates of at least $5 for each of its 109 employees and is willing to invest more if there’s interest, said Anne Marisick, who handles partnerships and communications.
Marisick investigates a market in Yarmouth that was new to her because of the program, and she thinks it encourages employees to visit as many people in her area as they would during different days and times. Huh.
“As a company, we work on providing a really strong benefits program to our employees, and this was another program we wanted to support our farmers and foodies by offering our team healthy local food. could,” she said.
Later this year, the bumper harvest program will be used at winter farmers markets, DeBiasi said. The federation also sees an opportunity to create personalized gift certificates outside the program.
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