South Durham Farmers' Market accepts SNAP/EBT

Apr. 05, 2014 @ 08:19 AM

At the South Durham Farmers’ Market, we are working to increase the entire community’s access to fresh local foods. That is why we are pleased to announce that starting Saturday, we began to accept benefits received through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

SNAP was preceded by the food stamp program, and vendors at farmers’ markets were able to easily accept the paper food stamps issued by the Food and Nutrition Services. However, by 2004, all states had switched to using Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, which look and operate much like debit cards. Unfortunately, most farmers could not individually afford the point-of-sale machines needed to accept EBT cards and the accompanying transaction fees. 

As a result, low-income households have had less access to the nutritious foods available at farmers’ markets.  This is of no small consequence. Despite signs of economic recovery, over 47 million Americans still receive SNAP benefits. 

In response, farmers’ markets have devised creative solutions to allow individuals to shop with their EBT cards. The system we are adopting at the South Durham Farmers’ Market closely follows the program successfully implemented at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market and currently being setup at the Durham Farmers’ Market.

SNAP recipients simply visit our market’s information booth, swipe their EBT card on the market’s point-of-sale machine and enter the dollar amount they intend to spend at the market. The customer will receive $1 wooden tokens equal to the amount withdrawn from the account. All of the vendors at our market will accept the tokens for SNAP-eligible products. If the customer does not use all of the tokens, they can either be returned and credited back to the account or saved for future markets dates (tokens do not expire!).

We have also opted to accept debit cards to expand payment options for shoppers and to cover the costs of accepting SNAP/EBT at the market.  Similar to EBT transactions, customers can swipe their debit cards at the market information booth and receive $5 wooden tokens to spend like cash with any of the market vendors. A $1.50 transaction fee will be charged to debit customers, helping to subsidize the market’s SNAP/EBT program.

Our hope is to support SNAP recipients even further by funding a Double Bucks program. In such a program, customers shopping with their SNAP benefits will receive twice the amount withdrawn from their account to spend at market. We have already received some funding from Durham County’s Farmland Protection Advisory Board, and our goal is to raise enough funds to offer Double Bucks throughout the summer, approximately $4,000.

As we have worked towards accepting EBT at the market, we have received a ton of help from the Durham County Department of Public Health and the N.C. Community Transformation Grant Project. And, the experience has brought us closer to the other farmers’ markets in the area. The managers of the Durham and Carrboro farmers’ markets were both very generous with their time and knowledge. 

As we enter our third season, we look forward to welcoming the entire community to the South Durham Farmers’ Market and making our bounty of local foods available to everyone.

Elizabeth Zander is market manager for the South Durham Farmers’ Market, open 8 a.m. noon each Saturday at Greenwood Commons Shopping Center, 5410 NC Highway 55.