Expanding the use of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at farmers’ markets brings more fresh, in-season foods to families.
MANHATTAN, Kan. – In today’s electronic age, swiping plastic to make purchases has become more common. A few people still prefer to pay for food using cash, particularly at farmers’ markets, but more markets are accepting electronic purchases to make fresh, local foods available to a wider audience, said Sandy Procter, K-State Research and Extension nutrition specialist and coordinator of Kansas’ Family Nutrition Program (FNP).
FNP, Procter said, is a nutrition education and obesity prevention program built into the U.S. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. This SNAP-Ed program helps Kansans with limited resources improve their healthful food choices by focusing on increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily and their physical activity, while reducing time spent in sedentary behaviors.
Those who receive SNAP benefits, formerly called “food stamps,” are encouraged to buy more nutrient-dense foods, including fruits and vegetables, while stretching their food dollar, Procter said. One way to do this is at local farmers’ markets.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has made progress to provide better access to the nation’s 8,200 farmers’ markets and farm stands—more than 4,200 markets and direct marketing farmers now redeem SNAP benefits. Kansas currently has 21 market locations that accept SNAP.
The USDA has detailed information on its website about how markets can apply to accept SNAP benefits and the various ways this can happen. To relieve some of the financial burden, the USDA will provide specific electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, equipment at no costs to markets that have at least $100 in SNAP business per month.
“Incorporating EBT and other electronic transfers into farmers’ markets widens the audience from all walks of life who can utilize the market,” Procter said. “It used to be that only folks with cash in hand could shop at the farmers’ market, and we know that society is changing—acceptance of cards is important to all shoppers.”
Focus on nutrition
Procter, who is a registered dietitian, said many SNAP nutrition education programs across the country, including educators in Kansas’ FNP, have strived to work with local farmers’ markets over time to make it easier for people to access fresh foods. In some cases, markets have short seasons, while others can be a year-round, on-going social event in communities.
“We’ve worked hard to help people understand fresh fruits and vegetables, when they’re in season, are affordable, and they’re for everyone,” she said. “They’re certainly not the only form of food that is nutritious, however. We know you can get healthy fruits and vegetables frozen and canned, but when they’re fresh and available, it’s a nice and important part of nutrition.”
Using SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets also is an important way families can stretch their food dollars while foods are in season and widen the variety of foods that maybe otherwise they wouldn’t have, Procter said.
Local farmers win by having a wider audience of customers, she said, and consumers win by eating a variety of healthy foods. The situation also increases socialization, because consumers get to know who is growing their food and where their food comes from.
Some markets have individual point-of-sale systems for SNAP, while others choose to collectively get EBT equipment and have one central point-of-sale system where consumers use their EBT card to obtain a set amount of money in scrip to use at the different vendors.
Procter said some markets in Kansas, including ones in Douglas and Wyandotte counties, allow double the amount of scrip for each EBT transaction. For example, a $10 charge on an EBT card would allow for $20 in scrip for market produce. This allows people to stretch their food dollars even more, and those who use SNAP benefits should check with their local markets about such opportunities.
Markets that do not have the electricity and phone line needed to operate the EBT-only devices can also consider obtaining wireless equipment that accepts EBT and debit and credit cards, or using manual vouchers that can be mailed to the EBT processor for reimbursement.
For a list of farmers’ markets by state that accept SNAP benefits and more information about SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets for both vendors and consumers, visit Learn About SNAP Benefits at Farmers' Markets.