USDA to award $3.3 million to farmers markets that accept food stamps

By Whitney Forman-Cook

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WASHINGTON, May 5, 2015 - USDA announced it will offer up to $3.3 million in grant funding to farmers markets and direct marketing farms that are willing to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as payment for the fresh fruits, vegetables and other goods they sell locally.

“We have seen an unprecedented growth in the number of farmers markets accepting SNAP Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards in the past six years,” Kevin Concannon, Agriculture Department Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, said in a statement. “These awards support the markets that may need administrative help in implementing and managing EBT service and informing customers that they can use their SNAP benefits at farmers markets.”

Lets Talk Food According to the USDA, approximately $18.7 million in SNAP benefits were exchanged for farmers market goods in fiscal year 2014, an increase of 7.5 percent over 2013's figure. USDA reported today that 6,200 farmers markets accept EBT benefits, up from 800 markets in 2008.

The goal of this initiative is two-fold, Concannon told Agri-Pulse. “We want to encourage low-income people to eat nutritious foods,” he said, “and then for those benefits to go back into the local economy.”

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The Farmers Market SNAP Support Grants will be awarded in September in amounts ranging between $15,000 and $250,000. Grantees, such as associations, county governments, tribal entities or similar organizations, will use the funds to run farmers market booths equipped to exchange EBT card benefits for tokens. Those tokens can then be exchanged for farm goods and sellers can later trade in the tokens they earn at the same booth, on the same day, for payment.

These grants, administered through USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative - an effort to coordinate local and regional food systems - will help grantees provide a service that eliminates the need for farmers to keep separate records for EBT transactions, Concannon added, which means less red tape for local producers.

Applications for funding are due June 18.

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