Change has come to the Harvey County Farmer's Market (121 E. Sixth St., Newton) this year, with participating vendors accepting an expanding variety of payment options — options that now include credit, debit and EBT (electronic benefit transfer) cards.

Through a grant in partnership with the Novo Dia Group, the farmer's market received the equipment necessary to accept e-payment and will do so for an initial period of three years. Cards are now being accepted at the market manager's booth in exchange for tokens that can be used at participating booths. With that new form of payment being accepted, Harvey County Extension agent Scott Eckert expects it may bring in some different consumers — particularly in regards to those utilizing EBT cards.

"It should be opening to a new clientele wanting to purchase fresh produce from the farmer's market, so people who may have been going to the other stores where it was accepted — grocery stores — they can now come to the farmer's market and do that, buy locally grown stuff," Eckert said. "It's a good thing."

For those using EBT cards (which are loaded with government benefits distributed to qualifying individuals), market tokens received will have no cash value, as Harvey County Farmer's Market board of directors chair Joel Hurd noted those funds can only be used for specific items (i.e. fruits, vegetables, baked goods).

Aiming to get healthier food to a greater number of people, EBT is not the only form of alternative payment accepted at the market with the intent of meeting such a goal. The Harvey County Department on Aging also offers farmer's market checks to individuals 60 and older who meet specific income criteria to allow them that same access, and have been doing so for about five years.

Program specialist Wenda Black noted it is about a five-minute application process for those interested in the checks and with the funds the local department receives it is able to offer six checks worth a total of $30 each season. As growing season progress, Black also expects more and more vendors to accept that form of alternative payment.

"Not all vendors have signed up, but they have the logo ... so persons who go to the farmer's market know which vendors accept," Black said.

Harvey County's Department on Aging received 125 checks and $3,750 in total funds this year, a number that continues to grow according to director Robert Carlton. He also noted there are a limited number of checks still available for this season and interested individuals can stop by the department (in the Harvey County Courthouse) to apply.

Carlton noted those who are part of the program are very grateful given access to fresh produce they may not have access to any other way, and Hurd says the acceptance of EBT cards provides a similar benefit — one he hopes pays off given the work that went into getting the necessary equipment for the farmers market.

People with EBT cards have made mention to Hurd about coming down now that they will be accepted at the farmer's market. While he has yet to see the masses flock to E. Sixth Street to take advantage of that, he knows the program is still growing and hopes those who qualify will see the benefits of these changes.

"It gives them an opportunity to buy fresh produce instead of at the store. In fact, a lot of times the produce that's sold at the farmer's market costs less than what you'd buy at the store," Hurd said. "Even though the store's more convenient, you get an opportunity to buy something you don't get everyday."

The Harvey County Farmer's Market is open from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays and will be adding Tuesday hours from 3 to 5:30 p.m. sometime in June.