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Oh, SNAP! Oxford City Market Adds New Program

Oxford City Market has now been granted SNAP retailer status and has been issued an EBT card reader, according to market director and manager Katie Morrison. SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the federally funded program formerly known as food stamps that assists eligible families in buying healthy food.  Until October 1, Morrison had for months been in communication with USDA representatives in an attempt to obtain SNAP status and receive the electronic benefits transfer card reader that had been promised by the representatives.

“This process has taken exceedingly longer than I was told that it would,” says Morrison, who says the complications regarding the SNAP benefits program were the major disappointment she saw in the first year of the market.

Morrison says her main goal for the year was to try and get the SNAP program up and running at the market before the end of the season.  Now that she has completed that task, she wants to make sure as many people as possible know about it.

“Now I just want to get the message out that this is accessible for citizens,” says Morrison.  “I also hope that in future years we will see the market grow to include vendors of greater variety, including certified meat and dairy vendors, and operate on numerous days.”

To help the market grow, Morrison recently made the decision to hire an assistant market manager.

“The primary goal of hiring an assistant manager is to put more hands on deck on market day,” says Morrison.  “And we’ll also be able to increase outreach.”

Morrison says the market is looking for support from local businesses and is trying to garner more community attention.

“Also, with someone in my place at the market on Tuesdays,” says Morrison, “I will be able to be out working on a sponsorship plan, and applying for additional grant funding.”

Morrison believes more marketing opportunities allows for more local produce to be raised and that this in turn helps vendors, who can plant more as the market grows.

“Our first year has been really successful,” says Morrison.  “We’ve had a lot of interest from vendors.”

One such vendor, Christy Callahan, is also experiencing her first year in the business.  Callahan and her husband Glen started their new business, M & J Farms, earlier this year.

“I taught myself how to make jams and jellies in February,” says Callahan, “So it’s still new.”

But for such a young business, the M & J Farms’ homemade jellies and freshly baked breads have become a customer favorite at the market.  Callahan says the key is to use fresh, quality ingredients.

“I buy all of my fruit local,” says Callahan, “so that helps out on flavor.”

M & J farms, which also sells a variety of vegetables, herbs, breads, canned goods, and live poultry, will be expanding when Callahan and her husband build a commercial kitchen soon.  Callahan says this means they will begin selling to a variety of local shops and restaurants.  But she won’t be forgetting the place where she got her start in selling food.

“I’ll still continue to sell at Oxford City Market,” she says.

The success of M & J Farms is just one example of why the market is so valuable to Morrison, who hopes to see the community grow along with the market.

“One of the most exciting dividends we’ve seen as a result of the market are the new ventures people have started,” says Morrison,  “whether it is baking operations using local ingredients like the Creative Kitchen and Rose Confections, or other food operations like Local Nutz, two local chefs who are making homemade pasta, sauces, ice cream and more.”

Julie Bergeron, of Molly Moo’s Tutus, has been selling her hand-made girls’ tutus at the market since July.  Molly Moo’s is named for Bergeron’s daughter, Molly, who was the inspiration behind the business.

The tutu’s are $15 and include an elastic band to fit most girls, making the item a crafty solution for parents who don’t want the hassle of re-tying their children’s costumes.

“We’ve gotten lots of business from the market,” says Bergeron.  “It’s just a great place.  And some great people come by.”

“Next season,” says Morrison, “we’d like to be able to provide more space and vendor capacity.”

Other current vendors include, but are not limited to, Tubby Creek Farm, Mudline Farms, Welcome Valley Farms, Native Son Farm, Sunlight Springs, and Yokna Bottoms Farm, all of which sell fresh, local produce.

But for all this to be possible, Morrison says one crucial thing is needed: Volunteers.

Morrison calls volunteers an essential part of both outreach and operations and emphasizes that they are always in need of more helpers.

“The more hands we have, the more we are able to achieve,” says Morrison.

OCM started out last season with a lot of volunteers, but numbers have dwindled and more are needed for the fall.  Morrison says that even those who are not available on Tuesday afternoons are encouraged to volunteer, as she has other ways they can help.

“We want to see this market serve the community’s needs in every way that Oxford wants it to serve,” says Morrison.

To volunteer, email Morrison at katiemorrison@oxfordms.net or go to oxfordcitymarket.com.  You can also visit facebook pages for the market and many of its vendors.

–Story and photos contributed by Meek School of Journalism and New Media student, Caitlin Keith

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