Farmers markets to accept EBT/debit payments this year

Published 6:12 pm Monday, February 28, 2011

Local farmers market organizers expect to make it easier for consumers to purchase fresh, local vegetables from farmers markets this season with the installation of EBT/debit machines.
Patrick Mclendon, who serves the Polk County Office of Agricultural Economic Development from AmeriCorps’ Project Conserve, said the segment of the population that falls within EBT and food stamp income brackets is often left behind in local food actions.
“They are regulated to what they can buy,” Mclendon said. “So we wanted to provide this service not only for our vendors as another source of income, but so members of the community could spend their money on local, fresh nutritious produce.”
To rectify this situation and connect more people with local food, the Rutherford-Polk-McDowell District Health Department’s Eat Smart Move More NC program provided the necessary funding to initiate the program.
The $500 donation allowed managers of local markets to purchase and maintain a wireless point of sale machine to process EBT, credit and debit transactions, Mclendon said.
Few markets in Western North Carolina currently provide access to EBT and Food Stamp machines, he said. Mclendon said he can’t count the number of people who leave the market on a given day because they don’t have enough cash on hand.
McClendon said the process would work like this: customers at the markets wishing to pay for produce and other items with any of the above methods would stop by a central booth where they would pay for market tokens or scrip. The customers could then use those tokens at any vendor booth that displays a sign indicating they accept tokens.

Images of EBT and debit tokens that are expected to make it easier for people to purchase products at local farmers markets this year.

Those vendors would then turn in their tokens at the end of the day and receive a receipt for their records. They would receive a check in that amount in the mail or at the next market.
Mclendon stressed the program is voluntary for vendors and none will be required to participate. He said he does encourage participation, however, because it would benefit not only consumers but vendors as well.
“The goal of the program is to increase the use of EBT and Food Stamps funds by eligible consumers to increase local and nutritious food consumption while also generating a new source of customers for vendors,” reads the program manual.
Two separate tokens, distinctly marked by color, will be used to distinguish between EBT and credit card customers. This must be done because EBT cannot be accepted for the purchase of non-food items such as soaps and crafts. EBT customers can return their tokens for a refund on their account but they cannot receive change for their tokens.
One key point for consumers to know is that they will be allowed up to $25 per token transaction and two transactions per day. Therefore, they will not be able to obtain more than $50 in tokens in a given market day. They can use their leftover tokens for future markets.
“It becomes a much bigger connection to the local food movement and they in turn spend their money and it grows our economy in Polk County,” Mclendon said.
He said the consumption of local food also helps reduce an area’s reliance on gas and big box corporations.
“We saw a rise in local food buying the last time [gas prices rose] because they didn’t want to drive to go shopping for produce. If we can keep more things coming to our tables from Polk County it makes us more able to weather potential economic storms,” he said.
The program will begin with the first farmers market of the year on April 19.

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