In fact, I love spending my SNAP dollars (food stamps) at the farmers market. Farmers markets are great places to get food that hasn’t traveled far, is fresh and nutritionally dense, and supports the local economy. There are a ton of great reasons to shop at farmers markets, but for many low income folks, it can feel hard to participate in this part of the economy.
In the last few years, more and more farmers markets have started accepting SNAP dollars, which are loaded onto EBT cards, formerly called the food stamp program. And while this is crucial in the role of creating more access to high quality food, not many people on SNAP are utilizing this.
I get it.
The following is a tutorial on how to use your SNAP/EBT/Food stamps at the farmer’s market considering some of those other barriers faced by other low income folks (some like myself, others with very different lives than me.) This blog is not comprehensive and does not address issues such as transportation or limited hours of some markets.
1. Decide to go.
2. Find a market near you and make sure they accept SNAP.
3. Find the booth called “the market tent” or ask where you can find the market manager.
The tokens look something like this. These are examples from different farmers markets across the country so you have an idea of what they could look like at a market near you.
4. Decide how much you want to spend.
5. Get informed. The market manager can let you know how to use the program.
Another thing to keep in mind when using the tokens, be sure to find out if they can be used any other time or place. Some markets may happen twice a week, or in multiple locations in your city. Some markets are connected and use the same tokens, others use different tokens.
Last, some farmers markets have programs that lets you get extra market money for using your SNAP. In Vermont, there is something called Crop Cash, which allows me to effectively double my spending power. I tell the market manager that I want $10 taken from my EBT card and she gives me $10 in tokens PLUS $10 in Crop Cash. I now have $20 to spend. Farmers love this program because it puts even more money into the hands of you, the local vegetable loving consumer. Ask your market manager if they have this incentive program, which has different names in different places.
6. Spend your money at the market!
If your market uses the tokens, most vendors will accept them. Besides the change thing I explained in the above step, your tokens are basically cash. Buy whatever lovely food you want!
I tend to stick with produce that I know and love, and only occasionally will buy something new. I hate food waste, so I’m sometimes fearful to try something new in case I get it home and realize I don’t like it. I don’t have kids, but if I did, I would want to make sure they would eat whatever vegetable I purchased too.
I love to look for vendors that offer samples of their products. This way I can taste it to see if I like it, but I can also talk to the vendor about how they like to cook it. Feeling brave enough to purchase beets but have no idea what to do with them once you get home? No better person to ask than the one who grew the beets in the first place! The farmer will likely be very happy to share their ideas with you. Sometimes they even have free recipe printouts they can give you.
Other things to remember:
You don’t have to buy everything at the farmers market. I usually only spend about $10-$20 of my monthly SNAP benefit at the farmers market. I like the atmosphere, I like looking around at the nice displays and crafters, and I like whatever music is playing. It’s a social time in many communities and sometimes I just like walking around with friends even if I’m not buying anything that week.
Many farmers themselves are also surviving on low incomes. Farming is a tough job and it is really hard to make a living doing it on a small scale. I have met a lot of farmers who wish they could make their produce less expensive, but often that would mean a pay cut from their already too small salaries.
You are bringing money into the local economy. Spending your SNAP at the farmers markets takes money from the federal government and puts it into your community. There is a body of research on something called “economic multipliers” that show that $1 spent at local farmers markets generates more than $1’s worth of economic activity. More dollars circulating locally makes for a stronger local economy and a stronger local community.