As USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services, I can tell you that there are few things I enjoy more than visiting one of the many thousands of farmers’ markets in communities across our verdant country. There’s just no better opportunity to sample the bounty of American agriculture.
The fresh fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods you can find at farmers’ markets are the foundation of sound nutrition. Which is why USDA is working hard to expand access to farmers’ markets for those participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
It’s a win-win situation for everyone. Farmers and farmers’ markets value their ability to accept SNAP benefits as a way to attract a wider customer base and increase sales. But many say that the cost of installing and operating EBT equipment at farmers’ markets is a barrier.
To help clear that hurdle, USDA recently expanded eligibility for funding intended to increase the availability of wireless point-of-sale technology in farmers’ markets. Those funds are now available not only to farmers’ markets, but also to direct marketing farmers operating in markets that aren’t already accepting SNAP benefits. Funds may be used to purchase or lease equipment and pay for wireless access. Funds are available through September 30, 2013 and will be dispensed by state agencies. Click here for more information about the funds and how to apply to be a SNAP retailer.
At USDA, we’ve made encouraging farmers’ markets to accept SNAP benefits a priority in recent years. In 2008, about 750 farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmers accepted SNAP. In 2012, more than 3,200 did – a four-fold increase in markets, which was accompanied by a six-fold increase in redemptions at these outlets. I’m pleased with the progress we’ve made in just a few short years. But we need to do more.
Research shows that about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pockets of American farmers. Installing wireless technology at farmers’ markets expands the customer base for markets and increases the share of the SNAP dollar that goes directly back to local farmers. And that helps nourish local economies.
Expanding SNAP access at farmers’ markets truly is a win-win opportunity all around. Because there’s no better place to savor the flavor of farm-fresh food than at one of America’s farmers’ markets.