More farmers markets nationwide are accepting food stamps for their summer squash, apples and other fresh produce — fattening profits for farmers while creating healthier options for low-income families as food prices soar.
More farmers markets nationwide are accepting food stamps for their summer squash, apples and other fresh produce — fattening profits for farmers while creating healthier options for low-income families as food prices soar.The federal Food Stamp Program is helping New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Michigan and other states provide handheld wireless terminals for electronic benefit transfers — the modern debit card version of food stamps — to farmers markets at no extra cost. Massachusetts, New Mexico, Vermont and other states plan to equip more markets to accept the cards this year.It can’t come soon enough for people like Wilfred Negron.Negron shops for groceries for his family in Brooklyn using an EBT card to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but he said he would rather use his card to buy produce at a farmer’s market. He said the nearby stores don’t offer the same kind of variety.“When you do shop at the grocery store, it’s very limited — they don’t have a very wide selection,” he said. “I think if we had a farmer’s market, I think we would shop more, and eat more produce.”On the other side of the counter are farmers like Richard Hayberger in Hamlin, N.Y. Hayberger said he makes an extra $500 a month from Rochester-area farmers markets because of the wireless program that has brought him more customers.“The market’s much, much busier. I’m impressed,” he said.In 2007, 40 markets in New York state accepted food stamps. This year, 87 of the state’s about 400 markets are equipped to sell food to families using the EBT cards, said Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. Food stamp sales at New York farmers markets have increased statewide from $3,000 in 2002 to $90,000 in 2007, she said.Massachusetts has expanded from five markets to seven that accept EBT cards wirelessly, Vermont planned to go from three markets with wireless access in 2007 to nine in 2008, and Michigan went from two farmers markets accepting food stamps to eleven in 2007.“We’re already outpacing 2007, so I think we’re going to see significant growth,” Eggert said.Another state program, NY Fresh Checks, gives food stamp families $5 coupon incentives for spending a minimum of $5. They only get one check per market day, but are encouraged to come back regularly for the coupons.Across the country, 46 states have at least one farmer’s market accepting EBT cards. In 2007, 21 states had farmers markets that extended access to low-income families through alternate means, like the wireless EBT machines and a system exchanging EBT credit for wooden tokens that can be spent at markets in New York, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.Iowa had 103 markets accepting food stamps in 2007. That year Washington had 24 markets, while Oregon and Connecticut each had 18 markets accepting EBT cards, according to the USDA.In New York, the roughly $130,000 in funding to expand the wireless EBT program would only accommodate up to about 130 wireless food stamp terminals across the state, which would only account for about a third of the state’s markets, Eggert said.“It helps the local farmer, it helps the families both stretch their food dollars and makes sure they are getting access to fruits and vegetables,” said Cathy Roberts, a senior paralegal at the Empire Justice Center, a statewide, nonprofit law firm helping poor and low-income families.