Since 2008, the number of farmers markets across the United States has increased 76 percent, jumping from 4,685 in 2008 to 8,268 in 2014. California and New York hold the most markets, followed closely by Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois. Economically and socially, the markets are revitalizing downtowns, supporting family-based and local farming, and stimulating job growth. Studies also show that markets are making a difference in fighting diet-related illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease. An ideal venue for reaching a diverse customer base from all income levels, farmers markets can promote public health by serving families with limited access to fresh nutritional foods.
But only if families can afford to buy the fresh food at farmers markets. Currently, over 28 million people receive federal nutrition assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) runs the program. SNAP serves not only the working poor but also people temporarily unemployed, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, SNAP benefits since 2004 are distributed through a debit card system. The system reduced the stigma associated with food stamp currency, but it also makes it difficult for farmers markets — that typically operate without electricity or telephone lines — to accept electronic benefits.
Advocates, including the Project for Public Spaces, Inc. and Project Wave, have pushed for programs to increase SNAP benefit redemption at farmers markets. Since 2010, they have collaborated with local and national partners and the USDA to provide for subsidies for an electronic payment system, educate and train workers at farmers markets, and promote the markets to SNAP recipients. Some researchers have also tested a program to provide bonus funds to SNAP users, giving them additional food vouchers when they purchase fruits and vegetables. The 2014 Farm Bill proposes a new program that would provide for $100 million in grants over the next five years for such incentives. The bill also allocates $4 million to subsidize the cost of equipment at farmers markets used to accept SNAP payments.
Currently one in four farmers markets accept SNAP benefits. Our map visualization locates farmers market across the United States and highlights separately those that accept SNAP. The markets are mapped using data available from the USDA national Farmers Market Directory. The Directory collects information provided by market managers and representatives from state farmers markets agencies or associations.
This visualization was created in CartoDB and developed as a tool for users interested in finding market locations generally and for locating those that accept SNAP. Address information is displayed for each market, and instructions encourage users to search by city to generate a broader range of possible sites. The categories (markets and also markets that accept SNAP) use bright color notations rather than icons or logos because more complex graphics would be distracting in larger scales for geographic areas where markets are clustered closely together.