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Town Square Farmer's Market Now Accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

Molly Soeby, Family & Consumer Science Agent for Grand Forks County Extension, and Community Health Action Response Team “Take Action” Chair joined the Leadership for Local Foods program in 2013 with the goal of getting Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program (SNAP) dollars accepted at the Town Square Farmer’s Market in Grand Forks.

SNAP offers nutrition assistance to eligible, low-income individuals, and is the largest hunger safety net in the country. There are numerous benefits to allowing SNAP participants to spend their dollars at farmers markets, including increased access to healthy, locally grown foods, and keeping more dollars in the local community.

The Town Square/SNAP initiative began through a diverse community partnership under the “Take Action” umbrella. This group’s been working to allow SNAP use at the farmers market for a number of years, but without the buy-in and participation of the market vendors, they had little success.

There are many steps to implement SNAP acceptance at a farmers market including obtaining an FNS number (USDA certification), identifying a non-profit to sponsor, covering the cost of the point-of-sale machine (SNAP dollars operate like a credit card and many farmers markets operate on cash only), staffing needs to operate the EBT machine, and the costs associated with bookkeeping, start-up, transaction fees, and recruiting vendors to accept the SNAP dollars.

The “Take Action” group was able to complete nearly all of these important logistical pieces, but they were missing one crucial element – buy in from the market vendors. Shortly after the first Local Foods Leadership Training, Molly connected with Caryl Lester, manager of the Town Square Farmer’s Market, who was in full support of the market accepting SNAP and was able to bring all the vendors on board.

Through grant dollars received in the Local Foods Leadership Training, Town Square was able to cover the cost of hiring a summer employee to run the EBT machine. The market operated SNAP with a token system, allowing SNAP participants to purchase tokens to be exchanged for fresh produce, and vendors to be immediately reimbursed for their products. Also, through connections made in the Local Foods Leadership Training, Molly connected with members of the BisMarket Farmers Market, as they successfully began accepting SNAP the previous year. This connection provided guidance and mentorship to Molly and the TownSquare/SNAP team throughout the process.

The Town Square Farmers Market is gearing up for the 2015 market and its second season accepting SNAP benefits. They have many inspiring ideas for the coming year, and one of the key goals, according to Molly, is marketing the EBT capabilities to those in the SNAP program and to see an increase in the use of EBT SNAP at the market.

The Take Action coalition hopes to continue strong, collaborative effort to promote better health, support the local farmers, and ease poverty in the community.

 

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Demand for local food in rural communities is growing. Sustainable local food systems need to have strong community support to build and maintain the infrastructure needed to bring food from farm to fork. This website provides resources to support rural communities just beginning to build their community food systems as well as those whose local food systems are already strong. Resources are intended for farmers and producers, community organizations, and Extension Educators but may interest anyone in community and local foods. While this website was a partnership between Minnesota, North Dakota, and South Dakota, most resources are applicable for any rural community.

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