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New program to help families use local foods in affordable meals

Media contact: Dr. Carolyn Bird, or (919) 513-7793

A North Carolina State University program has won a major grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to help low-income families buy healthy, affordable, locally produced foods at farmers markets.

The $248,000 grant comes from USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

The North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, the university’s largest outreach program, will use the funding to develop and deliver the “More in My Basket at the Market” program.

According to principal investigator Dr. Carolyn Bird, the program’s goal is to teach SNAP recipients different ways to use produce from farmers markets to make affordable, nutritious meals for their families.

Bird, an associate professor in NC State’s Department of Youth, Family and Community Sciences and a Cooperative Extension financial resource management specialist, recently joined USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon in a press call related to the federal agency’s announcement of $34.3 million in grants to support communities’ local foods infrastructure and to increase access to fruits and vegetables.

In North Carolina, Bird said, “We want to make it a simpler and more inviting process to use SNAP benefits at a farmers market.”

Five counties with high poverty rates — Haywood, Jackson, Mecklenburg, Moore and Richmond – were selected to participate in the program. In these counties, 35 to 52 percent of the population is at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

Cooperative Extension Family and Consumer Sciences agents in each of the counties will offer tours of farmers markets and provide education and food demonstrations. Each person who attends a More in My Basket at the Market demonstration will receive a cookbook with recipes for preparing healthy meals for $4 per person or less.

In announcing the grants earlier this month, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the grant program is part of a USDA-wide effort to strengthen local and regional food systems. “Since 2009, we have seen a 75 percent growth in farmers markets nationwide,” he said. From 2009 to 2014, SNAP redemptions at these markets grew by 350 percent.

Bird said that More in My Basket at the Market builds on North Carolina’s existing More in My Basket program, which helps provides people with help in understanding and applying for SNAP benefits. To sign up for more information or to find healthy, affordable recipes, visit More in My Basket’s website at

Cooperative Extension is the outreach arm of NC State University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, in partnership with the USDA and county governments. Cooperative Extension agents serve residents in all 100 North Carolina counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians with educational programs related to agriculture, food and youth development.

-D. Shore