New Program Links 'Food Stamps' to Farmers' Markets

Akeya Dickson | 6/13/2012, 1:51 p.m.

"That means a lot for the farmers and turns into 10 percent for them because of a grant from Wholesome Wave Foundation, which doubles the amount purchased, so that's exciting," Segal said.

The grant is only available to farmers markets that don't already have an EBT machine.

Some farmers' markets are in rural areas and don't have access to electricity or phone lines. But advances in wireless technology will open up a new world for them - up to a point.

"One of the things that's really frustrating is that the technology is very, very close to the point where the card use could get much less expensive if Square and other [smartphone] devices started processing EBT cards," said Segal. "There's a lot of security issues involved. Personally, I think it's going to happen. The technology is there."

Bruce Alexander, director of communications for the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service, said, "The program is entirely opt in, it's not mandatory. The funding covers the purchase of the equipment for each farmers market, not for each farmer."

More than 46 million people in the country receive SNAP benefits. Caseload growth year-to-year largely mirror unemployment and underemployment trends, according to the Food Research & Action Center, a national anti-hunger organization.

"Increases in SNAP caseloads between February 2011 and February 2012 occurred in 46 states and the District of Columbia," reported the nonprofit. "The four states that registered double digit over-the-year percentage caseload increases were: Delaware (11.7 percent), Iowa (10.8 percent), Colorado (10.1 percent) and Hawaii (10.8 percent.)"