Farmers markets are an increasingly popular tool for local buyers to have access to fresh, in-season produce, meat and eggs. And for several years, low-income customers could also use their SNAP benefits to buy those products - provided the market had some way for connect to the electronic system that is the backbone of the food program. Not all farmers markets have that access, but Wednesday Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced awards to make that happen.
Says Merrigan: "Our country's 7,100 operating farmers markets offer opportunities to our children and their families to access healthy food across the country. SNAP participation at farmers markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers."
In the past, lack of connectivity in those markets meant it was a challenge to redeem SNAP benefits using the Electronic Benefit Transfer system. However, funding provided by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act 2012 will allow states to provide wireless equipment to currently non-participating farmers markets opening the door to greater participation in SNAP.
Merrigan adds that the funding will allow SNAP users to increase their access to healthy food, and she says "evidence suggests they will take advantage of that access." In addition, strategies including education, cooking demonstrations and community support often found at farmers markets could boost consumption of those healthy foods even more.
There are currently 1,500 farmers markets using EBT. Since 2008, SNAP spending at farmers markets is up four-fold.
As part of yesterday's announcement, which gets federal funds to state agencies, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service will soon post a Federal Register notice to solicit public input on how best to use the funds in the future. USDA wants to expand use of SNAP beyond the current numbers, and increase annual SNAP redemptions at these locations.
USDA has a National Farmers Market Directory that lists which locations take SNAP benefits.