Public libraries are vibrant community institutions throughout the country. In recent years, libraries have gone from being a place for borrowing books and doing research to being spaces to use the internet, get help finding a job, and take advantage of many community resources. Now in South Carolina, libraries are also places to buy affordable, healthy foods!
“When I was told I could purchase 12 pounds of produce for $10 at the library, I did not believe it! I am glad to be able to shop in walking distance from my home and receive a large amount of produce with my SNAP benefits. This stretches more for me and my family than the same amount at the grocery store.”
University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health saw the potential of public libraries to play a role in improving access to healthy foods, especially among low-income community members. The program started working with libraries in 2017. The Richland Library Main, located in the capital city, is in a low food access tract and in a school district where all children are eligible to receive free meals due to high poverty levels. The easy accessibility of the library made it the perfect place to start a weekly farmers market.
Multi-Component Approach and Ripple Effects
Starting in November 2017, the library hosted a weekly farmers market where anyone from the community can fill up a box of fresh produce from local farmers for $10. Customers can pay in cash or with SNAP EBT benefits.
In addition, social workers employed by the library, and interns from the Master in Social Work program at the University of South Carolina, are present during market hours to help SNAP-eligible customers sign up for SNAP. Seeing customers make SNAP purchases with one vendor, has inspired other market vendors to also become SNAP retailers.
At first, the library planned to pilot the market for 2 months and then take a break before opening back up a few months later. However, due to high customer demand, and vendor satisfaction, the library decided to keep the market going year-round without a break. Since opening, the Richland Library Main farmers market had $17,227 in sales and 1,996 purchases to date (18 weeks).
In March 2018, an additional library branch in the same system decided to also open a farmers market based on the success at the Richland Library Main location. On its opening day, 166 produce purchases were made! SNAP customers in 2 neighborhoods now have weekly access to fresh and affordable produce from local farmers at their local libraries. Other library branches within this system and in neighboring counties have expressed interest in also starting a market at their locations.
Customer Survey Results
Customers were surveyed during five market days within the first 3 months of the market opening.
Favorite aspects of the market included:
- Freshness of the produce (30%)
- Convenience or accessibility (23%)
- Affordability (16%)
After 3 months, 46% of shoppers were first time market shoppers and 54% were repeat shoppers. 30% found out about the market while visiting the library or seeing signage out front, 19% learned of it by being library employees, and 12% found out through social media or a website.
The University of South Carolina’s Arnold School of Public Health is a SNAP-Ed Implementing Agency. Please direct questions to Carrie Draper, MSW, at firstname.lastname@example.org.