Food stamps at farmers markets
By Lynn J. Richardson
A recent article printed by a Washington newsletter, “Agri-Pulse,” reports that federal money to help farmers’ markets buy machines to accept food stamps is going unspent.
However, in Jonesborough, the director of the local farmers market says the market doesn’t need the type of EBT machines the federal government grants are offering through the United States Department of Agriculture.
“That money is being offered to buy a machine that can only be used for food stamps,” Childress said. “We felt that it could stigmatize customers to have to use a separate machine, one just for food stamps. We wouldn’t want to make anyone uncomfortable.”
To that end, the local farmers market opted for a credit card machine that takes all plastic, Childress said. With one swipe, the market accepts everything from VISA to EBT (food stamp) cards, something they have done since the market’s inception in 2011.
The market purchased the machine with funding from the Farmers Market Promotion Program through the Appalachian Farmers Market Association. “So indirectly, we accessed USDA funds,” Childress said, “but we didn’t apply for funds for the individual EBT machine.”
“Anyone who doesn’t have a lot of cash, for whatever reason, can still buy food at the market,” she added. “It’s a win-win.”
According to “Agri-Pulse,” only 6.6 percent of the $4 million allocation for the EBT machines has been spent.
Rogerio Carrasco, the USDA program’s coordinator, told “Agri-Pulse” it has been a struggle to award the $2,000 grants, which allow markets to “purchase machines that can accept, and networks that can keep track of, SNAP dollars.”
As of May 2012, only 1,500 of the 7,100 markets in the U.S. accepted the electronic benefit transfer payments.
But the Jonesborough market, beginning its third year this season, has and will always offer all their customers a simple, easy way to pay for their food, Childress said.
“We don’t have a lot of customers who pay with food stamps, but a few,” she said. “However, with 20 percent of Washington County’s households receiving food stamps, that’s millions of dollars a month that are distributed. They have to buy food somewhere, so we want to include anyone who depends on that for their food.”
The local market has also found a way to give food stamp recipients even more for their money.
“The Wholesome Wave Foundation gives us a grant every year that allows us to match food stamp purchases up to $10,” Childress said. “So we give those shoppers $20 worth of tokens to spend, giving them double value when they shop with us. That’s just another way to encourage food stamp recipients to eat well by shopping at a farmers market where they can buy wholesome fresh food.”