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USDA: New Grants To Help Farmers Markets Take SNAP Payments

The USDA has announced new funding to encourage broader acceptance of SNAP benefits at farmers markets.

At many farmers' markets, SNAP users use their benefit cards to purchase wooden nickels, shown here, which they can treat as cash when paying individual vendors. Vendors then exchange those nickels for their cash equivalent.

Point-Of-Sale Equipment

Farmers markets are cranking into full gear for the new season, and vendors are working hard to make their food more accessible to lower-income families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits.

On April 30, USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon announced $4 million in expanded grant eligibility for farmers markets and direct-market farmers looking to begin use of wireless point-of-sale equipment. This equipment makes it easier for customers using food stamps to purchase fresh produce from their local market.

Direct-marketing farmers who want to acquire EBT equipment must regularly participate in farmers markets where neither the market itself nor any other regularly participating vendor is already equipped to accept EBT payments.

The goal of the project, explains a USDA announcement, is to increase SNAP visibility at markets in the hope of encouraging other vendors to join.

Benefits For Consumers, Farmers

The ability to purchase produce through the farmer’s market benefits farmers and consumers alike.

Increasing farmers’ ability to collect SNAP payments will increase the percentage of SNAP funds that find their way into the pockets of local farmers.

Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSAs) are also eligible to accept SNAP payments, though it requires some extra work on the part of the farmer since SNAP guidelines dictate that the consumer must receive their food within two weeks of paying for it.

While most CSA subscribers pay a lump sum in the early spring that covers the cost of their full season’s share, SNAP users and farmers must work together to arrange a biweekly transfer of funds during the growing season.

Increasing Numbers

The USDA estimates that in 2012 3,200 farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers were set up to accept SNAP benefits, up from 750 in 2008.

Farm Futures points out that this four-fold expansion of SNAP accessibility has been accompanied by a six-fold increase in the frequency of SNAP benefit redemption through these outlets.

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Sarah Gordon

Sarah Gordon has been interested in food ethics since she was 15, learned about industrial slaughter, and launched into 10 years of vegetarianism. These days, she strives to be a conscientious omnivore. Now a PhD candidate in folklore, her research has caused her to spend a lot of time in the remote Canadian sub-arctic, where the lake trout (sustainably harvested) tastes amazing.

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