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Economy / Business

SNAP Benefits Are Making Their Way to Florida Farmer's Markets

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Buying fresh fruits and vegetables can be a real problem for lower income people. A lot of neighborhoods don't have stores that carry them, and for many people the price is too high. Farmer's markets could be a solution, but very few of them accept food stamps.

It’s happening slowly -- but Central Florida farmer’s markets are opening the door to SNAP. That’s the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that used to be known as food stamps. These days, recipients largely use an electronic benefits transfer, or EBT card that’s like a debit card.

The problem with farmer’s markets is that they’re cash-only operations. But the United States Department of Agriculture is offering grants for farmers markets to get the equipment needed to process EBTs.

In Central Florida, the Sanford farmer’s market began accepting EBTs a few years ago. Volunteer Jeff Farrell said Sanford was the second farmer’s market in the state to do so, and people definitely make use of it.

“Grocery stores offer it, but with our produce and stuff, a lot of our stuff everything is lower, so they’re glad they can come here and spend the money. ... They get a lot more for their money,” Farrell said.

In Brevard County, farmer’s market manager Melinda Morgan-Stowell said a recent increase in the USDA grant for EBT equipment shows a growing respect for locally sourced food.

“So what we’re seeing is an acknowledgement by the federal government that local food sources are not only providing more healthy produce, but also are providing a health benefit to the local economy, if you will, ” Morgan-Stowell said.

She said 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food remains with the farmers and the local economy.  She said local produce is better because it hasn’t been shipped and stored -- and so has a longer shelf life. Morgan-Stowell also said right now only three farmer’s markets statewide accept SNAP.

Audubon Park Farmer’s market director Gabby Lothrop said she’d like to change that number to four. She said Florida is behind the curve in making sure fresh, whole foods are part of a community’s culture.

“And when you’re talking about long term solutions to hunger and health, you really can’t have one without the others,” Lothrop said.

Lothrop said she’s hoping the Audubon Park Farmer’s market will be able to apply for the USDA SNAP grant this fall.