By Kim Walter
With National Farmers Market Week under way, residents may be pleased to know that several area markets have acquired equipment to benefit Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients.
In April, Kevin Concannon, agriculture undersecretary, announced expanded eligibility for U.S. Department of Agriculture grants to improve access to fresh produce and healthy foods for those who receive SNAP and food stamp benefits.
The funds were provided in order to expand the availability of wireless point-of-sale equipment to both farmers markets and direct marketing farmers so they can accept payment through SNAP and food stamps.
The USDA has made expanding SNAP recipients' access to fresh fruits and vegetables through farmers markets a priority in recent years. In 2008, about 750 markets and individual farmers accepted SNAP, Concannon said.
"We now have 3,841 farmers markets and farmers who are authorized to participate," he said during a recent interview.
In Virginia, 939,000 people depend on SNAP and food stamp benefits each month, Concannon said. By growing participation among local markets, he said he hopes to promote healthier eating.
"The products sold at farmers markets or by individual farmers address the part of our diet in which we are deficient -- fruits and veggies," he said.
Often, markets and produce stands are located by intersections or in parking lots where electricity and wireless access isn't available. By applying for the funds, such vendors can get the necessary electronic benefit transfer equipment to accept more payment methods.
"This is something that not only helps the consumer, but also the producer," he said. "I think some of these farmers would be surprised how much their revenue can increase if they participate with SNAP and food stamps."
Concannon said he hopes more people who rely on SNAP will realize that they can join the shop local movement.
"It all goes back to the green effort," he said. "They can eat better, non-processed foods, and funds go back into supporting their community."
Funds made available to each state for the electronic benefit transfer equipment are available through Sept. 30. Concannon said steps have been made in order to simplify the application process for farmers markets.
Previously, direct marketing farmers and markets had to respond to the same questions asked of larger stores like Safeway, Food Lion and Harris Teeter, he added.
"Obviously, farmers markets are very different venues," he said. "We really want to facilitate any attempt of getting better food to more people."
As of July 1, there are five farmers markets in the valley that have taken advantage of the financial assistance in order to accept SNAP and food stamps.
They are: Our Health Healthy Living Event at 329 N. Cameron Street in Winchester; Shen-Val Farm Market at 2180 Fairfax Pike in Stephens City; Mount Jackson Farmers Market Llc at 5973 King Street in Mount Jackson; Wagner's Farm Market/Farm Stand at 23917 Senedo Road in Woodstock; and Woodstock Farmers Market at 1175 Hisey Ave, also in Woodstock.
To find out more about available farmers market funding or about accepting SNAP benefits at your farmers market, go to www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm/htm.
Contact staff writer Kim Walter at 540-465-5137 ext. 191, or firstname.lastname@example.org