Stretching consumers’ purchasing power at farmers’ markets

Produce 2016-01-14How do you double consumer purchasing power at your local farmers’ market? Follow the lead of markets in Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati. They have helped SNAP recipients with a free dollar-for-dollar match for every dollar spent (up to $10) using an Ohio Direction Card. In Cuyahoga County, the SNAP incentive program is referred to as Produce Perks, and the additional match provided can be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables.

Such programs provide a variety of community benefits. In Cleveland, many farmers’ markets are located in food deserts, defined as areas with limited access to affordable and nutritious food that are often composed of predominantly lower‐income populations. In these cases, farmers’ markets provide residents with access to fresh, local fruits and vegetables that are often not offered at common shopping destinations, such as corner stores. Incentive programs help SNAP recipients stretch their monthly food budget and promote the consumption of fresh, local fruits and vegetables. In addition to providing community health benefits, incentive programs help support local farmers by providing them with new a customer base and helps to diversify their revenue streams.

To develop an EBT incentive program at your farmers’ market you must first apply for an FNS (Federal Nutrition Services) number through the USDA, which allows the market to accept Ohio Direction cards. After receiving your FNS number, you will be contacted by Market Link to receive free EBT equipment that will be used for swiping Ohio Direction cards at your market. Funds for the incentive match dollars will need to be obtained. Currently, most incentive programs are funded by local private foundations. However, more recently the USDA offers grants under the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program to support incentive programs. A dedicated market staff member or volunteer will be needed to manage the program and train vendors on item eligibility with tokens, as well as track all SNAP sales for reporting.

Checklist for developing a SNAP Incentive Program:

  • Obtain an FNS number from the USDA
  • Obtain EBT Equipment from USDA/Market Link
  • Secure funding for incentives
  • Develop token system for tracking EBT and incentives
  • Ensure dedicated market staff or volunteer can manage the program
  • Train market vendors about item eligibility with tokens
  • Develop marketing plan for SNAP outreach
  • Track SNAP sales for reporting

To learn more about developing an incentive program at your farmers’ market, contact Amanda Osborne, County Extension Educator, Cuyahoga County & Western Reserve EERA, at osborne.414@osu.edu or 216-429-8200 ext. 212.

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