NEW BEDFORD — At the Farmers Market, SNAP sales have drastically increased due to the Healthy Incentives Program that began in April.

“The Healthy Incentives Program has brought in tons of customers,” said Dawn DiMarco, Farmer’s Market manager. Last year, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP sales totaled $2,900 while this year the total skyrocketed to $41,801.56, according to DiMarco.

The state’s Healthy Incentives Program or HIP matches SNAP recipient purchases of local fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) farm share programs, according to the state’s website. Also new this year to provide more access to local fruits and vegetables and fill the gaps between consumers and producers is a group out of Mass in Motion called Coastal Foodshed.

FIND LOCAL FARMERS MARKETS HERE.

Due to operational and funding limitations under Mass in Motion, Kim Ferreira and Stephanie Perks created Coastal Foodshed to sustain and expand existing programs and develop new ones. They are currently working toward nonprofit 501(c)(3) status.

Their goal? Dispel the myth that New Bedford farmers markets are expensive and exclusive for wealthy residents, according to Ferreira.

In September, the organization received a three-year grant for $233,453 through the USDA’s Farmers Market Promotion Program for the New Bedford Farmers Market.

With that funding, the group plans to create promotional materials and advertisements for the farmers markets including print and social media based on a community driven marketing plan aimed to reach city residents age 18 and older, SNAP recipients and communities of color, Ferreira said. In addition, they plan to create culturally appropriate, short videos that demonstrate farm to table multicultural recipes with produce grown in Massachusetts and show the farmers market’s diversity and affordability.

Last Thursday, Sarah Murray stood behind the Heart Beets Farm stand of Berkley where her husband is a full-time farmer. In talking about SNAP, she said “I would say it’s like 80 percent of our sales at this market.”

“Today we’ll see a lot of people that want to use up their HIP benefits before they go away,” she added.

In order to earn the HIP incentive, SNAP users need to spend SNAP dollars on local fruits and vegetables at participating locations, such as the New Bedford Farmers Markets. Recipients receive an immediate dollar-for-dollar match credited to their EBT card on eligible purchases. For HIP, a household with one to two people gets a monthly cap of $40, three to five people get $60 and six or more people get $80, according to the state’s website.

At Murray’s stand, prices were mostly under $5 per item for veggies like bagged kale and lettuce mix, butternut squash, sweet potatoes, parsnip, watermelon radishes and purple top turnips.

Susan Murray of Apponagansett Farm in Dartmouth, with no relation to Sarah, called HIP a “game changer” and said people can now get the local, fresh fruits and vegetables they’ve wanted, but maybe couldn’t budget for.

Coastal Foodshed was officially created over the summer, but Susan said “They’re doing a lot of education and they’re getting the word out” which helps her as a farmer. Prices at her stand were based on an amount per pound.

“All the players have been involved with the farmers market under Mass in Motion” Ferreira explained, which took over management of the markets in Fall 2014 and began to accept SNAP. The Farmers Markets will now be managed by Coastal Foodshed.

The summer Farmers Market runs from June to October while the winter one is from November to May. The winter market is open from 3 to 6 p.m. Thursdays at The Times Square Building Atrium located at 888 Purchase St.

Follow Aimee Chiavaroli on Twitter @AimeeC_SCT