SNAP benefits extend to farm shares

The Recorder. September 21, 2014. By Kathleen McKiernan.

For the first time, food stamp recipients will be able to purchase CSA farm shares of fresh fruits and vegetables.

One local farm, Red Fire Farm, a 100-acre organic fruits and vegetable farm in Montague, is one of 10 CSA programs participating in a four-month pilot across the state.

Before the pilot, Red Fire Farm could only take SNAP benefits, as food stamps are called now, at its Granby and Springfield locations where SNAP EBT cards are run on-site each week. Now people can use their benefits at CSA pick-ups throughout the state.

“This system will make it much easier for our current SNAP CSA members to make payments for their shares. We hope that lots of people participate to try a CSA out and help us develop a new program that can spread across the country,” said Sarah Voiland, owner of the Red Fire Farm.

The pilot allows for up to 200 SNAP households to participate in the program. Once the pilot is completed, the state will analyze and determine whether to launch a permanent program. As of May 2014, there are approximately 850,000 SNAP recipients.

Red Fire Farm runs a CSA through the summer, fall and winter. This pilot will apply to shares from participating farms for the months of September, October, November and December.

CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture, is a program where people buy shares of farm harvest at the start of the growing season, and collect their shares weekly.

The program is supported by the Department of Transitional Assistance and runs through December.

“The Department of Transitional Assistance has made increasing access to healthy eating options, including fresh fruits and vegetables, a top priority under Commissioner Monahan’s leadership,” said DTA spokesman Matthew Kitsos. “Throughout the commonwealth, residents face barriers that prevent them from accessing healthy foods.”

The CSA program builds off DTA’s other initiatives including, in partnership with the Department of Agricultural Resources, a joint statewide series of farmers market tours to both bring awareness to the issue of food insecurity and to promote farmers markets as a place for low-income families to access nutritious, local and affordable food, Kitsos said.

Easier to administer

The program is also meant to reduce the current administrative burden of weekly SNAP payment handling for small farms.

Once SNAP participants sign up for a CSA share, payments will now be made directly from their EBT account to that CSA program for each month of membership.

“This setup is way easier. We don’t have to process and record payments each week, and the members don’t have to either — they sign up once and just come get their vegetables anywhere we deliver,” Voiland said.

A SNAP CSA share comes at a significant cost savings, estimated at 45 to 65 percent, to SNAP customers by decreasing the overall cost per pound for fresh produce compared to the average higher costs of produce at farmers markets and at the grocery store, Kitsos said. This savings allows SNAP recipients to stretch their food budget further.

In addition, the CSA program gives customers increased buying power when using SNAP benefits through additional subsidies, incentive programs and WIC coupons, Kitsos said. The goal of these incentives is to encourage SNAP recipients to use benefits to purchase healthy foods and in turn provide healthier meals for their families.