'Market Token Program' thriving at Rochester's Public Market

Rochester, N.Y. (13WHAM) - Although the "Market Token Program" isn't new to the Rochester Public Market, its popularity in the last two years has exploded. According to the USDA, it's the top performing program of its kind in the U.S., exchanging nearly $1 million in public assistance benefits last year.

All you have to do is exchange Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) dollars for $1 and $5 tokens at the program building, located outside the market's main office. Then, go shop around for produce and use the tokens as if they are cash. 

"It's very easy to use," said John Vanaalst. "You come here and swipe your card and get your money and get the necessary food for your house."

"It's fresh produce. There's good variety and good prices. They usually beat the supermarkets and the discount stores with their prices, I really like it," added Cam Meador. 

In turn, vendors exchange the tokens for cash.

"It's great. The people come up and use their tokens like they would cash," said Phillip Munson, the owner of Fisher Hill Farms near Canandaigua. 

The concept of the program is rather straightforward. Yet very effective.

"It's a very simple in and out," said Program Director Margaret O'Neill.

"Last year we sold about $1 million worth of tokens and incentives. It's meaning thousands and thousands of people can eat healthier because they can use their SNAP benefits here."

Current incentives through the end of the year allow SNAP recipients to receive an extra $2 in tokens per every $5 exchanged. Between the incentives and typically better prices on produce at the market compared to those in supermarkets, it's helping SNAP dollars go further, while getting people to eat healthy.

"We have customers who tell us they're eating healthier," said O'Neill. "Some of our customers have diabetes, and they've been able to decrease their medication simply because they're able to eat more produce by shopping here."

"When you go to the bigger stores, it gets expensive buying fresh fruits and vegetables," said Cam Meador. 

And it's all done while helping out local farmers.

"The prices are excellent, and you're helping out local farmers, so it's a win-win," said John Valnaast. 

Last year, 7,000 different SNAP recipients utilized the Market Token Program at the public market. Although the program has accomplished immense success, O'Neill says there's still much more work to be done when it comes to getting local SNAP recipients to eat healthy and support local farms.

"Even though we're reaching thousands of people, it's still only a tiny percentage of the potential customers who get SNAP," said O'Neill. "And you get such value here at the Public Market and any farmers market. You get so much more for your money and you're buying from local farmers."

For more information on the program, click here.

by Tanner Jubenville