Farmers’ markets are a thing of beauty – but they aren’t always accessible, especially for people who rely on federal programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the bulk of their food supply. But the government is hoping to help. This week Deputy Secretary Kathleen Merrigan announced that the USDA will put $4 million in funding toward making farmers’ markets more accessible for everyone.
According to a press release from the USDA, only 1,500 farmers’ markets in the United States are outfitted with wireless equipment necessary to process any payments made through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. That’s a major improvement from years past, and it’s reported that sales made by SNAP participants have increased 400 percent since 2008. But even so, would-be customers who shop on the EBT system are left out in the cold at nearly 6,000 other farmers’ markets across the country. With this new funding, the USDA hopes to provide farmers’ market vendors with the wireless technology they need to process food stamp transactions, giving SNAP users instant access to their wares:
"Our country's 7,100 operating farmers markets offer opportunities to our children and their families to access healthy food across the country," said Deputy Secretary Merrigan. "SNAP participation at farmers' markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers - a win-win for agriculture and local communities."
"This funding will help SNAP customers increase their opportunities to access healthy, local foods," [she added]. "And evidence suggests they will take advantage of that access. When we couple this approach with strategies like the education, cooking demonstrations, and community support often found at farmers markets, consumption of healthy foods should rise even more."
It doesn’t solve every access problem that SNAP participants face – there’s also the problem of physical access dealt with by those who live in food deserts, although the USDA is working on that issue as well. But considering the drastic cuts that programs like SNAP are facing right now, any expenditure that tackles a serious problem with definable solutions is a step in the right direction.
[SOURCE: USDA via Food Safety News]