From: , Organic Consumers Association, More from this Affiliate
Published August 27, 2008 10:47 AM

Use of Food Stamps at Farmers' Markets Rises Nationally

BRATTLEBORO -- A pilot program that began last year in Vermont in Brattleboro and Bellows Falls to allows consumers to use food stamps at farmers' markets is now spreading across the state, and the rest of the country. In 2007, the experimental service was set up at the two Windham County markets. While there were a few glitches with the wireless technology, six other markets are also trying the service out this season across the state.

And at other markets from Maine to Hawaii, farmers are introducing the electronic debit systems that allow low income families to use their federal food assistance dollars to purchase local fruits and vegetables.

The number of farmers' markets across the country accepting electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, transactions increased from 532 in 2007 to 605 as of June 2008, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

USDA Undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services Nancy Montanez Johner, said both food stamp recipients and farmers have benefited from the success of the program.

"Farmers' markets give food stamp recipients opportunities to improve their nutrition by increasing their consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables," Montanez Johner said. "The Food Stamp Program also benefits local farmers by bringing additional customers to their markets to purchase their products."

In Connecticut, the number of farmers' markets accepting EBT transactions rose from five in 2004 to 18 in 2007. New York saw its overall EBT use at farmers' markets jump 52 percent between 2006 and 2007.

And in Michigan, where two markets were set up to accept EBT sales in 2006, 11 joined the program the following year.

This year, 46 states have at least one farmers' market accepting EBT transactions.

Last year the Brattleboro Farmers' Market recorded $333 in food stamp sales.

Jean Hamilton, the food security and marketing coordinator at the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont, said the markets this year are off to a good start.

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