Farmers taking advantage of USDA SNAP program

AFP Correspondent

WASHINGTON (March 15, 2016) — No one knows as much about healthy food as a farmer and no one cares as much about nutrition.
Now in New Jersey they will be able to provide their good food to the population that needs it most.
Farmers’ markets, farm stands and, since the 2014 Farm Bill, Community Supported Gardens, can now accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program/Electronic Benefits Transfer.
The USDA Food and Nutrition Service can authorize these sellers, and non-profit food cooperatives, as SNAP/EBT providers.
New Jersey SNAP-Ed held a support network meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Warren County Community College.
They invited interested farmers and others from the northwest of the state.
“We are on a quest to get people to eat their veggies,” Amy Brinton, senior program coordinator of NJ SNAP-Ed, told an audience of farmers, non-profit managers, food bank operators and other interested residents of Warren, Sussex, Hunterdon and Morris counties.
Joni Garcia, program integrity team leader with the USDA/FINS told the group healthy food access is one of the priorities of her agency. “We are doing a lot of client education,” she said, adding part of her focus is to help consumers with recipes and ideas of what to do with the healthy food they buy.
On the selling side, the USDA helps farmers and market managers get started with the program. After her talk to the group, she invited interested providers to sign up for the service and provided free wireless EBT equipment.
Garcia explained how a farmers’ market can accept SNAP.
She said as long as there is a point-of-service device, the market manager or another employee can employ the scrip system. The customer swipes an EBT card for a certain amount and the manager issues tokens that can be redeemed at individual vendors.
Jasmine Moreano, director of community engagement for City Green, explained the reimbursement process depends on the market. Smaller markets can pay the vendors at the end of the day or the next week. Busy markets will send a check monthly.
“There are a variety of incentives for customers to shop at farmers’ markets,” Garcia said. Depending on grant money available, groups can offer “double bucks,” or certain financial extras for shopping at the markets.
One of the disincentives, Brinton said, has nothing to do with the market or the produce and everything to do with transportation.
She has worked with the transportation department in Warren County and will do so in Hunterdon County, she said, to try to arrange public transportation routes.
Garcia said SNAP customers can purchase any food they can take home from the market under terms of their contract for food stamps.
No single serving or hot item can be purchased.
However, seeds or vegetable plants can be bought with SNAP.
Mothers receiving WIC benefits can also use them at farmers’ markets. 
Farmers benefit from SNAP and WIC purchasers because they build the customer base of the market.
Opening farmers’ markets in the inner cities benefits those on assistance because it is the best way to get nutritional food to them.
Because of the lack of private transportation, city residents are often forced to shop at expensive neighborhood stores that don’t carry fresh produce, Garcia pointed out.
Moreano explained City Green is working on models for CSAs to accept SNAP benefits now that they are allowed under the law.