SNAP and Farmers’ Markets

If people using SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly food stamps) want to buy fresh produce at farmers’ markets, either the markets or the farmers who sell their crops at them have to have debit card machines to process the benefit cards.

But of the 8,000 farmers’ markets across the country, slightly fewer than half have the machines, in spite of a push by the U.S. Department of Agriculture—backed by a $4 million appropriation last year—to help the markets get them.

There has been dramatic growth in the number of markets using the machines over the past five years. During that time, the number of markets that can process SNAP cards has risen from 750 to 3,824.

But the government wants to see still more low-income people gain access to food that’s nutritious rather than merely filling. That goal is even more important now that one out of seven Americans uses SNAP. A difficulty with using the machines to accommodate SNAP recipients, or other purchasers, is that farmers’ markets are usually staffed by volunteers, and using the machines involves extra time and effort in the form of paperwork and accounting.

In May, the USDA began offering funding for the machines to farmers as well as farmers’ markets, and in the two intervening months, 330 farmers and farmers’ markets have taken advantage of the program.

Massachusetts and the Valley have been ahead of the curve on the issue; in the Valley, 29 farmers’ markets, including four winter markets, have the machines and make their offerings available to SNAP recipients, Phil Korman of CISA (Community Involved in Sustaining Agriculture) told the Advocate.