Winthrop native Emilie Knight landed a newly created position at the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets last fall to run SNAP, which is designed to help Maine families on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) take advantage of savings opportunities for fresh fruits and vegetables at local farmers markets. We called her up to find out how it’s going as the market – and harvest – hits full swing.

Speaking of, Sunday marks the beginning of National Farmers’ Market Week, and Maine markets are participating with a social media campaign called Snapshot Week.

SEEDS OF INTEREST: Growing up in Winthrop, her family ate well, but Knight said she wasn’t particularly drawn to her father’s garden. “I was more or less uninterested until I was about 20,” she said, laughing. But she has strong memories of working the Peace Action Network’s pea soup stand at the Common Ground Fair. “My folks volunteered our whole family to run that for a long time,” she said. “It’s funny to think of which experiences in your childhood affect you. I think that was a formative eight years.” Back then vendors often camped out at their stalls. “We were right backed up against the apple cider and apple cider doughnuts stand,” she said. “In the morning, my brother and I would get our $2 and go get the first doughnuts of the day.”

LINE COOK: When she was working at the Friends Camp in South China during her college years, she noticed something that needed changing. “I saw a lot of room for improvement in terms of quality of the food we were serving. So I convinced the director to hire me as the head cook the next year.” That meant cooking three meals a day for 100 children and finding local purveyors to provide better ingredients. She found some farmers through Barrels, the now-defunct cooperative in Waterville, and ended up cooking at Barrels as well for a year.

VERMONT CALLING: Then she went off to be a farm-to-school coordinator in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, working with the Green Mountain Farm-to-School Program. “I have always had a crush on Vermont,” she said. Like Maine, that region has many residents who are food insecure, that is, who don’t know where their next meal is coming from. Knight was assigned to three public schools, where she worked with the cafeteria staff and helped run the school gardens. But she had a fiancé waiting back in Maine, and when she returned, she saw the posting for the Maine Federation of Farmers Markets position. “It just lit up right away for me. It seems like a right next step for me.

HARVEST BUCKS: Knight oversees the SNAP program and also has been working on the Maine Harvest Bucks program, which gives consumers using EBT cards special promotions and deals, specifically on fresh fruits and vegetables, or those that have been processed but without sugar or salt. That could include frozen berries and even apple cider, which Knight says surprises some people, “but it’s just apples that have been smushed.” The price breaks range from 50 to 100 percent matches. For instance, at some markets, using $20 EBT dollars for meats, cheese and such yields $20 worth of tokens or vouchers for fruits and vegetables. “It helps eliminate that feeling that it is a risk to buy fruits and vegetables.”

About 35 Maine farmers markets take part in the Maine Harvest Bucks system now. Knight said it’s best to check maineharvestbucks.org for updates as to who is online and Facebook for information on individual markets. And shoppers using EBT cards should always stop in and talk to the market coordinator at the information booth. “They tend to choose a very friendly person to be stationed there.”

GETTING THE MESSAGE OUT: Although farmers markets in Maine have been making an effort to reach low-income families with the message that their government assistance goes further on healthy foods at farmers markets, it hasn’t always been easy to get that across. The federation is running radio spots (thanks to donated air time by stations such as WBLM) to spread the word. Shoppers seem to be getting the message, especially at markets with well-established EBT programs. “There are definitely some markets that have some work to do, that have some obstacles to overcome.” For instance, a shift in the Sanford market location meant that customers used to having one market weekly in a residential neighborhood lost that access. Thanks to private donations, the markets are providing bus vouchers to get those customers to market. “Transportation is a huge part of food insecurity.” But all in all, “We’re looking for this to be a banner year,” Knight said, referring to use of EBT dollars at farmers markets.

GROWING EMPATHY: Knight is married to a part-time farmer, David Gulak, whose Wild Folk Farm is making a name for itself by growing rice in Benton. “The paddies are gorgeous and the farm is producing really well.” She’s worked on the farm herself in past years. “It’s been really valuable to me to have a sense of farming and the values that are involved so that when I am working with farmers I can empathize,” she said.

THE LAST WORD: What motivates Knight’s work? “We are clearly in a time when we could do better. When Maine is first in New England for food insecurity, you have to ask, what are the solutions? This is crazy. I think programs like Maine Harvest Bucks and SNAP are part of that solution. ”