The Pittsfield-based Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets got a share of $35 million in new funding through grant programs that the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently awarded to support local and regional food systems.

A grant to the federation from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service of $249,600 will increase access to Maine farmers markets for people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, including allowing the MFFM to hire a SNAP program manager, according to a news release from the USDA. The money is aimed at specific communities around the state through partnerships with organizations such as the Portland Farmers’ Market Association, Washington County: One Community and the Aroostook Community Action Program, according to the release.

“Unfortunately, Maine ranks first in New England for food insecurity, and many low-income shoppers have little access to … fresh, local, healthy foods,” said MFFM’s executive director, Leigh Hallett, in the release. “Farmers and farmers markets across the state are already working hard to help those in need get healthy food. This grant will allow the federation to provide more of the tools and technical support necessary to help these programs succeed. Projects such as this benefit small farmers, too. SNAP is a federally funded program, so to see those dollars go to local producers and circulate in Maine’s economy is a good thing.”

The federation also got $99,000 from the USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service that will allow it to develop a two-year, statewide marketing campaign.

MFFM was founded in 1991 and works with farmers, consumers and communities to make wholesome, locally grown foods available to all residents, to educate consumers about food resources and to support farm viability.

With more than 8,000 farms and 150 farmers markets statewide, the local food network not only contributes to regional food security, but is a vital part of Maine’s economy, according to the release.

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