America’s farmers’ markets are a great source of fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods, and at USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), we’ve made it a priority to expand healthy food access through farmers’ markets to those participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). It’s a win-win situation because, for farmers markets, the ability to accept SNAP benefits is a great way to build their customer base, which helps generate more sales and nourish the economy in our rural communities.
As Administrator of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, I place a high value on partnerships because, working together, we can achieve more toward shared goals than by working alone. The USDA recently contracted with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP), in an effort to enhance the participation of farmers and farmers markets in SNAP. And out of that innovative partnership, I am excited to announce MarketLink, a new way for farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers to get authorized as SNAP vendors and get the equipment they need to accept SNAP benefits.
This modern, online portal offers farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers a streamlined approach to become SNAP-authorized. They may even be eligible for free wireless equipment if they qualify for this new program (about $4 million in grants for wireless technology through Sept. 30, 2014). Before MarketLink, each new SNAP vendor had to search out an equipment provider, select a wireless plan, identify a USDA-approved payment processor and understand the various rates and terms of the processor on their own; all of which was a time consuming and sometimes frustrating process. Now MarketLink is a one-stop-shop through which farmers and markets can access all this information simply and easily.
Farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers are encouraged to visit MarketLink to find out more about how to become authorized and how to take advantage of this opportunity to obtain free or low-cost equipment and wireless services. Organizations are encouraged to check out MarketLink and begin the authorization process now so they are ready with their SNAP authorization and wireless equipment for the market season in the spring.
There are over 8,000 farmers markets listed in the USDA National Farmers Market Directory, and over 4,000 farmers’ markets and direct marketing farmers are authorized to accept SNAP nationwide. Meanwhile, nearly 1 in 7 Americans rely on SNAP benefits. If you are a farmers’ market or direct marketing farmer without the technology to accept SNAP benefits and expand your customer base, log onto MarketLink today.
SNAP is America’s first line of defense against hunger helping nourish millions of Americans in need – nearly half of them children. And MarketLink will help ensure that they have access to even more fresh fruits and vegetables by upgrading the infrastructure at America’s farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits.