The USDA has announced awards to help states expand availability of wireless technology in farmers markets not currently participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The $4 million in funding provides SNAP participants greater access to fresh and healthy food, while supporting American farmers and local economies.
"Our country's 7,100 operating farmers markets offer opportunities to our children and their families to access healthy food across the country," said Agriculture Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan. "SNAP participation at farmers markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers -- a win-win for agriculture and local communities."
In the past, farmers markets, which usually do not have access to phone lines or electricity, have had difficulty redeeming SNAP benefits through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. As a result of funding provided by the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriations Act, 2012, states may provide wireless equipment to currently non-participating farmers markets, opening the door for their participation in the program.
"This funding will help SNAP customers increase their opportunities to access healthy, local foods," added Merrigan. "And evidence suggests they will take advantage of that access. When we couple this approach with strategies like the education, cooking demonstrations, and community support often found at farmers markets, consumption of healthy foods should rise even more."
There are currently over 1,500 farmers markets using EBT technology. Since 2008, SNAP expenditures at farmers markets have risen by 400 percent.
In addition to the these federal funds being provided now to state agencies, USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) will soon post a Federal Register notice that will solicit public input on how best to use such funds in the future. As of the end of the last fiscal quarter, there were 1,548 farmers' markets participating in SNAP. USDA is looking to expand the number of participating farmers' markets and increase annual SNAP redemptions at these locations.
FNS administers 15 nutrition assistance programs that, in addition to the SNAP and National School Lunch Program, also include the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, and the Summer Food Service Program. Taken together, these programs comprise America's nutrition safety net.
USDA National Farmers Market Directory lists farmers markets that accept SNAP and these other federal nutrition programs. It is available here.
With over two million page views last year, the directory is an easy-to-use tool that allows users to search for markets based on location, available products, and types of payment accepted -- including participation in federal nutrition programs. Newer features allow directory users to locate markets based on proximity to zip code and to see links to active farmers market websites. The USDA Farmers Market Directory is based on self-reported information provided by the market managers. Market Managers can update their market's information for the 2012 season here.