Are farmers markets for everyone?
Today that answer is no. Only about 13% of farmers markets are equipped to redeem SNAP benefits. This effectively leaves out the 1 in 7 Americans who receive SNAP (food stamp) benefits.
Why don’t all farmers markets accept SNAP? Well, for starters, “food stamps” are not paper stamps anymore. Since 2004, benefits are credited and debited electronically to the recipient’s EBT (electronic benefits transfer) card. EBT machines are costly, perhaps $800-$1500, plus annual operating fees. If a market decides to purchase one shared machine, then a market scrip or token system and a central staff to manage it are required.
Marketumbrella.org has an interesting history. Begun within the Twomey Center for Peace through Justice, it is regarded as a success story in fostering socially-inclusive economic development, especially for farmers and fishermen – “public markets for public good.” Now a separate 501(C)3 organization, marketumbrella.org offers a wealth of advice, measurement tools, and success stories for those interested in public markets.
We visited the smallest and newest of the Crescent City Farmers Market locations on Thursday. It’s open from 3:00pm – 7:00pm. We even got to ring the opening bell!
WWOOFers” from the Oakland Organic Farm in Gurley, Louisiana, and shrimp from Pete & Clara’s Seafood, just beginning a Community Supported Fishery. We bought hydroponic tomatoes, home-made pesto, the last of this year’s citrus, a fresh baguette, unhomogenized milk, and Creole cream cheese. YUM!
Beyond providing an inclusive market full of healthy, local food and open to all customers, positive social change was a goal of the Crescent City Farmers Markets from the start. It didn’t happen by chance.
- At first, farmers were fearful of making the long trip into New Orleans due to high crime rates and misperceptions about whether the market would be profitable for them. But marketumbrella.org persisted in recruiting vendors needed to make the market meet customers’ needs. Today the stalls are full and the 3 markets have an annual combined economic impact of nearly $10 million on its vendors, host neighborhood, and surrounding region.
- At first, SNAP recipients were turned away because the systems weren’t in place to accept EBT cards. But, after working through the arduous process of becoming a certified EBT site, marketumbrella.org instituted “MarketMatch,” a privately-funded incentive program that for a limited time matches SNAP customers’ first $25 with double crescents when they use their EBT cards at the Market. The result was a huge increase in use of the market by SNAP customers, even when the incentive program was not in effect.
- At first, older customers tended to find the market intimidating. But now, marketumbrella.org takes “Farmers Market Bingo” to senior centers, uses this fun game as a way to highlight what’s at the market, and then arranges “Meet Me at the Market” orientations so older customers will feel comfortable there.
People even come to the market just to meet other people!
Appendix: Does YOUR farmers market accept EBT cards? Here are two new resources to help farmers markets learn how to accept SNAP/EBT:
- SNAP/EBT at your farmers market: Seven steps to success, Project for Public Spaces, 2010
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Snap) At Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook, a joint publication by: USDA Agricultural Marketing Service, USDA Food and Nutrition Service, and Project for Public Spaces, Inc., 2010.