Food stamps accepted at Sunday market
June 8, 2012
A number of vendors at the Park Silly Sunday Market will be accepting a new form of currency starting this weekend with the hopes to open up the market to a group of new customers. Wooden tokens will be distributed as part of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, to those using the benefits.
This year, the Summit County Health Department teamed up with the Park Silly Sunday Market to offer farmer’s market goods to SNAP recipients, making it the first time in Park City that a farmer’s market will accept the federal funds as payment. SNAP program participants can use their EBT card, or Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which is a card similar to a debit card that allows SNAP funds to be used in grocery stores.
"It’s a win-win situation for everybody," said Allison Stuart, the health educator for the Summit County Health Department. "People who receive food stamps have that extra avenue to purchase fresh healthy foods and farmers can increase their customer base. It helps the local economy. Even the environment benefits through the local food systems, which we’re supporting with the program."
The partnership between the Park Silly Sunday Market and the health department came after the department received a state grant to support the program. The health department bought an EBT card reader to be available on site at the Silly Market information tent where SNAP participants can trade account funds for tokens to use in the market.
Park City follows a long list of farmer’s markets in Utah and across the country that are already accepting EBT cards. The Salt Lake City Farmer’s Market has accepted EBT cards for five years. But even with more added to the list every year and federal funds rewarding some states that participate, the number of farmer’s markets nationwide accepting EBT cards is still less than half.
According to the Department of Agriculture, only a quarter of the nation’s 7,100 farmer’s markets currently accept EBT payment. In Utah, 11 other communities have accepted SNAP funds, including markets in Salt Lake City and St. George, and like the national trend that number is growing.
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"When we were looking at the numbers, Summit County and the surrounding counties looked really low in the participation rates," said Utahns Against Hunger Executive Director Gina Cornia. "But those programs are growing. There is a clear and growing need."
In both Summit and Wasatch Counties, the number of people using SNAP has grown since the recession began in 2008. From 2007 to 2011, the number of Summit County households participating in SNAP increased by 211 percent, from 154 to 479 households. Over the same time period in Wasatch County usage increased by 175 percent, jumping from 185 households to 508.
"Every month there is roughly $35 million spent in food stamps spent in this state," Cornia added. "Why wouldn’t a farmers market want to give their vendors to that market?"
The program will still meet some challenges, one of the largest hurdles being the stigma of using SNAP. Stuart believes that in Summit County, programs like SNAP and WIC are underutilized, a fact that may be caused by pride or lack of education on who qualifies.
"This is a way to decrease health disparities among different incomes by increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables," Stuart said. "That’s what is driving the program."
For its first year, the Park Silly Sunday Market and the Summit County Health Department are hoping to show vendors the benefits, raising awareness.
"I expect that the participation will be low this year," said Kimberly Kuehn, the CEO and co-founder of the market. "It’s going to be an education process. This is a trial."
Kuehn said roughly a dozen farmers have agreed to participate this year, and booths that sell non-food items could not qualify.
"I hope it grows more and I hope other markets do it too," Kuehn added. "People are already asking about it, like will it be offered in the first market and who is going to be a part of the program."
EBT cards will be accepted starting this Sunday at the Park Silly Sunday Market, which runs every weekend from June 10 to September 23 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Park City’s Historic Main Street. The Summit County Health Department has approached the Wednesday Farmer’s Market held at Canyons Resort, but the market has not yet signed on to join the program. For more information, contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 435 655-0994. Or visit the SNAP webpage for EBT cards and how to use them at farmer’s markets at http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htm.