Food Stamps at the Farmers Market
Food stamp use at some Tompkins County farmers markets has increased over 375% since 2009, thanks to Cornell Cooperative Extension, the New York Farmers Market Federation, and a New York State Fresh Connect grant first awarded in 2012.
A Q&A with Avram Miner, Local Food Community Educator at Cornell Cooperative Extension and the leader of the program that facilitates EBT usage at the markets.
What do you do?
We enable people to use food stamps at the farmers market.
Food stamps come on a debit cards that get reloaded with the amount that you’re allotted each month. That necessitates a point-of-sale device to use your food stamps in a location. Most farmers and other vendors at farmers markets do not have that equipment, nor do they want to jump through the hoops to get to that equipment and get registered, so we did that. People come to our booth, they swipe their card and get a certain number of tokens that represent the dollars that they just spent with their food stamps and then they can spend those tokens at the vendors. We then reimburse the vendors with cash.
Who is this good for?
Both people who have food stamps and want to eat healthy, local, fresh food, and farmers who are making more money than they otherwise would.
What change are you trying to make?
The goal of food stamps is less about encouraging healthy eating than it is about preventing hunger. But we’re using food stamps to take that one step further and actually encourage people to use their food stamps to eat healthily.
What brought this program here?
The New York Farmer’s Market Federation facilitates all the farmers markets in the state getting this equipment and getting signed up with the program. But it also took willingness on the state and federal level to sort of work with those agencies to allow food stamps to be used in this way.
How does this impact Tompkins County?
It impacts some people by enabling them to eat more healthy, and choose what they want to eat that would otherwise not be affordable. It makes our farmers markets more successful by bringing more people to them and moving more money through them. It also impacts the farmers beyond Tompkins County because they’re benefiting from it as well.
What struggles have you encountered?
By far the hardest part is getting people aware of the fact that they can use their food stamps at the market.
In 2012 we got this FreshConnect grant from New York State Ag & Markets, and that allows us to do a couple things. Writ large, it’s a grant that promotes farmers markets and accessibility of farmers markets in New York State, so what we did is print out these $5 healthy bucks and we distribute them at food pantries, senior centers, WIC clinics… basically to people who we think might be eligible for food stamps. We say “here’s $5, try the farmers market. No strings attached. You don’t have to be on food stamps to use it, but we do want you to know that you can use your food stamps there.”
Once they’re here, they’ll learn that for every $5 they spend in food stamps, they get $2 additional. So it becomes a very significant benefit to shop here. It eliminates the price difference between here and the grocery store, if not more than that.
That has gone a long way towards greatly increasing the numbers of food stamps used at farmers markets. It’s working on our biggest challenge, which is that people just don’t know about it.
What should we be celebrating?
This program is pointing more people towards farmers markets and the products that are at farmers markets and the people that are behind those products. That, to me, is the important thing to celebrate. There are stupendous opportunities out there for people in this area to buy really really good food and products at markets. For the size of this town we’re doing really well!
How can people participate?
Well, they should come check out the farmers markets. If you’re not on food stamps, then you can be happy that this program exists!
or get more information about using food stamps at the market at ccetompkins.org.
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