The USDA has announced expanded eligibility for USDA grants to improve access to fresh produce and healthy foods by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients at America's farmers' markets.
As a result of funding provided by Congress through the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act of 2012, USDA last year announced the availability of $4 million in funding to expand the availability of wireless point-of-sale equipment in farmers markets not currently accepting SNAP benefits. USDA's action expands eligibility for grant funds to include direct marketing farmers, as well as farmers markets. Funds may be used to purchase or lease equipment or pay for wireless access. Funds are available to States through September 30, 2013.
"These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits," said Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon. "In general, research shows that about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pocket 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 into local economies."
USDA has made expanding SNAP recipients' access to fresh fruits and vegetables through farmers markets a priority in recent years. In 2008, about 750 farmers markets and direct marketing farmers accepted SNAP. In 2012, over 3,200 participated -- a four-fold increase in markets, which was accompanied by a six-fold increase in redemptions at these outlets.
Along with other criteria, a farmers market is defined as a multi-stall market at which farmer-producers sell agricultural products, particularly fresh fruits and vegetables (but also meat products, dairy products, and/or grains), directly to the general public at a central or fixed location. Direct marketing farmers are individual producers of agricultural products. In order to qualify for the funding announced today, the direct marketing farmer must sell products at a market stall within a farmers market that is not currently participating in SNAP.
Research shows that many farmers markets and direct marketing farmers value their ability to accept SNAP as a means to attract a wider customer base and increase sales. At the same time, a significant number cited the cost of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment as a barrier to accepting SNAP. These findings and others are part of USDA's Nutrition Assistance at Farmers Markets: Understanding Current Operations report released in late April. USDA's announcement helps to address this barrier by supporting farmers markets and direct marketing farmers in obtaining and operating EBT technology.
To find out more about available farmers market equipment funding or to learn more about accepting SNAP benefits at your farmers market, contact your SNAP State agency or visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.