How to Use Food Stamps at Farmers Markets

Photo: SupportPDX/flickr

People may still refer to them as food stamps, but the program that helps low-income families meet their nutritional needs isn’t called that any more. Since 2008, the program has been called SNAP (which stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and it now utilizes more efficient EBT cards, which work just like any other debit card.

Another thing you may not know about SNAP is that many farmers markets accept these EBT cards.

From 2003-2013, SNAP sales at farmers markets increased 490 percent. But, even if a market accepts SNAP benefits, not every vendor is set up to handle them. So farmers markets are coming up with creative ways to make sure that people on SNAP can buy fresh, local, healthy foods with their benefits.

  • Tokens or paper coupons – Many farmers markets, like those in Massachusetts, offer tokens or paper coupons that can be purchased through the EBT card at one central location. Then they are used like cash at any vendor, but the rules of what can and cannot be purchased with SNAP funds still apply. Fresh produce and meats can be purchased with them, but things like cut flowers, prepared foods, or alcohol can’t be bought with them.
  • Alternative Receipt System – Snap recipients shop each vendor first and get a receipt from the vendor. But, the vendor holds on to the bag of food. When shopping is done, all receipts are taken to an information booth where the exact amount spent is deducted from the EBT card. A final receipt showing payment has been made is shown to each vendor, and shoppers can pick up their bags.
  • Incentives for SNAP users – This isn’t a way to pay using an EBT card, but it’s worth mentioning here. Many farmers markets will give extra buying credit to SNAP users because they understand that people who need assistance from SNAP need as much healthy food as possible. In Michigan and Oregon, a program called Double Up Food Bucks matches up to $20 in farmers market purchases by SNAP users at participating markets. At New York City farmers markets, Health Bucks offers a free $2 coupon for every $5 in SNAP money spent at participating markets. These are just two of the many regions that are helping SNAP recipients stretch their benefits.

The USDA offers a Directory of Farmers Markets with information that can help SNAP recipients find a market that accepts the EBT cards.