Jul 17, 2011

Farmers Markets Accepting Food Stamps Expand

Expanding the number of farmers markets accepting food stamps will be possible through a recent Kansas Department of Agriculture grant to the Kansas Rural Center.

Fourteen markets currently participate in the Kansas Farmers Market EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) Program which enables markets to accept food stamps on the Vision Card as well as debit and credit cards for fresh produce and other market products. The KDA grant provides funding for an additional six markets.

The central wireless-point-of-sale system used by the program allows all eligible vendors in a multi-vendor farmers market to sell food products to Vision cardholders without each vendor being separately authorized by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service. Vision Cards are the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) method for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) also known as the Food Assistance Program in Kansas.

Consumers who receive Food Assistance benefits-as well as debit cardholders-can swipe their cards on the WPOS device at the market information booth. Vision Card-holders receive $1 wooden tokens that are used like cash for most types of food at the market. Tokens can also be used to buy seeds or plants that produce food such as tomato trans-plants or potted herbs. Most participating markets also accept debit cards. Debit cardholders received $5 tokens that have no restrictions.

The Kansas Farmers Market EBT Program began in 2006 with two demonstration sites. In 2009, an expansion project funded by the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services (SRS) added nine markets to the program. Two markets were able to independently launch EBT programs last season. Fourteen percent of Kansas farmers markets now participate in the program.

More than $26,000 in Food Assistance was redeemed at farmers markets in 2010. This represented a 161% increase over redemptions the previous season. Markets also processed almost $30,000 in debit transactions.

One in ten Kansans currently receives Food Assistance and this federal program will infuse more than 400 million food dollars into the state this year. "It is crucial that our local farmers are able to participate in EBT programs," said Mercedes Taylor-Puckett, Farmers Market Project Coordinator for the Kansas Rural Center. "Kansas farmers want to feed Kansans. With the expansion farmers market EBT programs, we are coming closer to the goal of providing access to locally raised agricultural products for all Kansans receiving Food Assistance."

According to USDA Food and Nutrition Service, there were only 1,000 farmers markets throughout the country authorized to accept SNAP benefits in 2010.The actual rate of redemption, as a percentage of all SNAP transactions, taking place at farmers markets needs improvement. Last year only eight thousandths of one percent of all SNAP transactions took place at farmers markets.

According to Stacy Miller, Executive Director of the Farmers Market Coalition, the average consumer spends about 25 times more than the average SNAP consumer at farmers markets. "The trend of farmers markets accepting SNAP benefits, as well as the redemption numbers, are going up. We still have a long way to go in leveling the playing field," said Miller.

For a listing of the fourteen markets participating in the Kansas Farmers Market EBT Program, go to: http://www.ksfarmersmarkets.org/news.

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