Farmers’ Markets in Wake: Healthy Food Access & Making EBT Work
AHA and its partners have an interest in promoting farmers’ markets for a variety of reasons, but key is that markets, particularly those that accept EBT/Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and WIC benefits, are part of a national evidence-based strategy to increase access to healthy foods. Fortunately for residents and workers, Wake County is home to at least 15 markets, as well as several mobile markets, and some new markets opening soon.
Four markets in Wake currently accept EBT cards (plus some vendors at the State Farmers’ Market in Raleigh) and the Knightdale Farmers’ Market will accept WIC this year.
In Sept. 2012, AHA was awarded a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to help the markets in Fuquay-Varina and Wendell launch acceptance of EBT benefits and promote this opportunity for people in need in those communities. Both markets opened for the 2014 season last Saturday and will remain open through October 25, and both markets offer a Market Match incentive for free food while funding lasts. AHA and partners will continue to support those markets with technical assistance and marketing support through this season when the grant ends, and continue to learn from this experience how to help them and other markets across Wake County increase healthy food access to low-income communities.
It is clear that accepting EBT/SNAP benefits is a key first step in helping increase food access, but at these markets and others in Wake County (and even nationwide) accepting EBT, there are still challenges. The recent report, Farmers Markets as a Strategy to Improve Access for Low-Income Families and Communities, echoes some of the challenges we have seen in Wake County.
For example, shoppers being unaware of market hours /location and the inability to complete all of their shopping at the farmers’ market were cited as reasons for not shopping farmers’ markets. Interestingly, this report also found that markets in located in minority communities succeed at attracting minority shoppers, but data from its study shows that the rate of low-income shoppers receiving SNAP and other food assistance benefits actually using these benefits at market were lower than expected. Survey data showed there are misperceptions among non-market shoppers about markets accepting such benefits.
AHA’s USDA grant to help the markets in Wendell and Fuquay-Varina accept EBT includes technical assistance and marketing support, such as bilingual signage, advertising, fliers for distribution and more.
Further study is needed on this, but the report indicates that possible explanation s include challenges for EBT shoppers to include seasonal items in a tightly managed food budget, and that the token system, used in Wake and widely across the country, may add more time and effort for shoppers. Also, EBT shoppers simply may not know their cards can be used at farmers’ markets.
These findings are instructive for markets here in Wake County, and AHA looks forward to continuing to help markets accept EBT/SNAP benefits and make these opportunities widely known throughout the community. Considering sharing/posting this Farmers’ Market flier at churches, child care centers, schools, clinics, hospitals and work sites.
MarketLink: Free EBT Equipment for Markets and Farmers
The USDA recently rolled out MarketLink, its new $4 million initiative to support markets and farmers in expanding EBT access and increasing market sales. MarketLink makes free machines available, provides training, and provides free wireless for 2 years and free and discounted transaction fees. Because this also brings credit and debit capacity, it can be a way to greatly increase sales for markets. EBT users tend to be new customers to the markets as well.
Market managers and/or individual farmers can apply at www.MarketLink.org. To receive free machines a market must have multiple stalls (or an individual farmer sell at a multi-stall market), and not currently be offering EBT. Even if a market or farmer does not qualify for the free machine, it could still get the discounted transaction fees through the USDA’s negotiated rate. More information, a step-by-step process and a phone number for assistance/questions are all at the MarketLink site.
Markets in Wake
AHA features a map of all the farmers’ markets in Wake County to help . Mobile markets such as Grocers on Wheels, the IFFS Mobile Market and LoMo Market have multiple locations, so check their websites to learn more.