Farmers’ markets serve many goals, but the most important are providing individual and community health. They are important venues for making healthy food readily available. Making healthy food accessible and affordable at local farmers’ markets reinforces the idea of good nutrition. The number of accessible Farmers’ markets needs to be increased for low-income families. Individuals will improve
their diets by increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables. Supporting local farmers, eating a healthy diet, and staying within budget are an all around win!
SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
Farmers’ markets are making real strides in increasing fresh food access for low-income SNAP participants. SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a federal nutrition program that helps you stretch your food budget and buy healthy food.
- $19.4 million in SNAP benefits were redeemed at farmers markets across the U.S. in 2015 (a significant increase since 2009)
SNAP is meant to increase food access and security by allowing low-income consumers to purchase healthier produce. Unhealthy diets can result from lower income families having to purchase low-cost foods full of fats and sugars. Farmers’ markets provide nutrient dense foods for a healthier diet. In recent years, there has been a successful push to make it easier for Mainers who receive SNAP to use the benefits at Farmers’ Markets. Actually, since 2011 an increase in SNAP redemptions at Farmers’ markets has over doubled.
Why the increase in SNAP redemptions?
The increases are credited to a combination of:
- Federal support,
- Bonus incentives
- Community partnerships.
When food stamps transitioned from paper vouchers to EBT cards, SNAP rec
ipients were unintentionally excluded. Electronic Benefit Transfer or (EBT), is the method in which SNAP and other government assistance funds are given to the recipient. Funds are added
monthly and the card works similar to a debit card. Informal EBT marketplaces like Farmers’ markets had no way to swipe the EBT cards.
The U.S. needed to build the infrastructure to process EBT transactions at farm stands. All states now use EBT to issue SNAP benefits rather than the old system of paper vouchers. A market that wants to provide SNAP access to all eligible-food vendors must have a central EBT terminal where SNAP transactions take place. Markets must be licensed by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) to accept EBT SNAP benefits.The USDA has partnered with
the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) to provide eligible Farmers’ markets with free EBT equipment necessary to process SNAP benefits. The lack of EBT terminals as well as the cost to obtain one was hurting many farmers.
The majority of Maine Farmers’ markets that accept SNAP also participate in the Maine Harvest Bucks (http://www.maineharvestbucks.org) nutrition incentive program, which provides bonus dollars to SNAP customers to be spent on fruits and vegetables.
The Maine Harvest Bucks program “is a proven way to help stretch limited food dollars and increase accessibility of fresh produce.” With the Maine Harvest Bucks program, SNAP shoppers can enjoy up to a 50% discount on all vegetables & fruits!
Maine Harvest Bucks is a statewide incentive program administered by the Maine Local Foods Access Network which was formed to improve access to Maine-grown food for all Maine people.
*** Currently there were 37 farmers’ markets accepting SNAP benefits and working with the Maine Local Foods Access Network to offer Harvest Bucks incentives during the 2016 season. Hopefully that number will continue to increase in 2017***
Maine Harvest Bucks is directly in line with the healthy eating goals o
f SNAP-Ed. Established in 2012 and funded by the USDA and
Maine DHHS, Maine SNAP-Ed reaches tens of thousands of Maine people each year with nutrition education and other related programming. (https://www.mainesnap-ed.org) The program’s efforts encourage SNAP recipients to explore their Farmers’ markets as a great option for high quality, fresh foods.
Nutrition education at farmers’ markets is an opportunity to educate families on how to select, prepare, and store, fresh locally grown produce. Increasing awareness within communities whose farmers markets accept SNAP benefits is vital for increasing SNAP sales at local markets. Nutrition education at farmers markets may also be an effective way to increase sales among local farmers and growers at the markets.
Eating Right when Money is Tight
According to the USDA, “The rapid growth of SNAP usage at farmers markets in recent years demonstrates that even a small increase in the percent of SNAP benefits spent at farmers’ markets can make a real impact. There are more fresh, nutritious foods going to families who need it, and millions of dollars in revenue going directly to farmers”
If the number of accessible Farmers’ markets is increased for low-income families, individuals will improve their diets by increasing their consumption of fruits and vegetables SO…SPREAD THE WORD…Some SNAP recipients still don’t know about the option to use their cards at Farmers’ markets. Let’s change the perception!
Schumacher, G., Nischan, M., & Simon, D. (2011). Healthy Food Access and Affordability. Maine Policy Review, 20(1), 124-139. Retrieved January 20, 2017
Quintana, M. (2017, January 17). SNAP Redemptions at Markets Continue to Increase, and New Federal Support is on the Way. Retrieved January 25, 2017. Farmers Market Coalition.
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). (n.d.). Retrieved January 20, 2017, from https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program-snap. USDA
Maine Harvest Bucks. (n.d.). Cultivating Community. Retrieved January 21, 2017, from http://www.maineharvestbucks.org/
Cultivating Community Farm Stands. Retrieved February 01, 2017, from https://www.cultivatingcommunity.org/buy-our-produce/low-income-options/cultivating-community-farm-stands/