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Have you ever been to a farmer’s market?
Seems like a lot more of us are buying our seasonal fruits and veggies there than ever before. But the farmer’s market boom is not reaching those who could really benefit from fresh produce… food-stamp users.
The USDA says there are almost 8,000 farmers markets sprinkled around the country, with half of those markets concentrated in 11 states. California, New York and Massachusetts have the most.
But market vendors are struggling with how to serve the poorest customers. Just 1 in 5 accept payment via the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The reason, simply put, is bureaucracy.
In order to accept SNAP cards, a farmer’s market vendor must:
1. Get approved and receive a Food and Nutrition Service authorization number from the USDA. This can take anywhere from 45 to 90 days.
2. Purchase or rent a “point-of-sale” machine so that the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT) can be swiped. The EBT card is the only approved way to accept food stamps.
3. Wait for reimbursement from the government (!), and maintain a system of back-end accounting to ensure proper compensation.
Most farmers (or at least those I’ve met and worked with) would love to participate in a program that would help get fresh produce on the tables of the poorest consumers and those living in so-called “food deserts.”
And while the USDA says it’ll spend about $4 million this year to get the payment processing machines into markets, will this really solve the problem? Farmers, who already live on razor-thin margins, need to be reimbursed quickly.
Reimbursed quickly by the government. Is this doable?
To find a farmer’s market in your area, click here. But don’t forget to double check the location and hours before you venture out!