Farmers' Market EBT Program

Farmers' Market EBT Program

The Ecology Center’s Farmers’ Market EBT Program assists farmers’ market operators and community partners in establishing, implementing, and promoting CalFresh EBT access (formerly known as Food Stamps) at farmers’ markets and other direct-marketing locations. This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and people like you.

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This online Toolkit is designed to assist farmers’ market managers, associations, Board members, or farmers in establishing or bolstering their farmers’ markets’ EBT program. If you are a customer interested in learning more about CalFresh visit the California Department of Social Services site, or visit our Farmers’ Market Finder to find a farmers’ market near you that accepts your CalFresh EBT card.

HISTORY

When Food Stamps moved to an Electronic Benefits Transfer system in 2003, farmers’ markets and the farmers they served were left out of the loop.

The Ecology Center worked with state and federal agencies to select and pilot the Single Point of Sale and Scrip model that is now used across the state. Since pioneering California’s Point of Sale model (POS) at the Ecology Center’s Berkeley Market in 2003, the Farmers’ Market EBT Program has worked with hundreds of markets statewide to identify the barriers to CalFresh EBT adoption and overcome them. To date, we’ve assisted over 300 individual markets statewide with their EBT Programs.


WHAT IS EBT?

Recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), known as CalFresh in California, are no longer issued paper Food Stamps. Instead, they are issued an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card where recipients can access their food benefits electronically by swiping their card at the point of sale.

In order to accept CalFresh EBT cards, farmers’ markets typically establish a central Point of Sale (POS) model, allowing the market to sell EBT scrip to customers at a central point in the market. The customer then spends their EBT scrip with any eligible food producer in the market and the market manager later redeems the scrip for cash or in place of a stall fee. This system requires the farmers’ market manager or operator to become authorized as a SNAP retailer by Federal Nutrition Services (FNS) USDA, and to implement and promote the EBT program.


How does it work at the Farmers' Market?

The central Point of Sale (POS) and scrip system allows all eligible food vendors in a multi-vendor farmers’ market to sell eligible food products to CalFresh EBT recipients without each vendor needing individual authorization by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (FNS). Click here to see a short video on this model.

The central POS device is usually located at a staffed market information table or carried by an easily identifiable market staff person. Regardless of the location, market signage should direct EBT cardholders to the POS device.

The staff person asks the customer how much of her food benefits she would like to transfer to scrip. Then the staff person swipes the customer’s card, which debits the amount she requests from the balance stored on the card. (This amount is then transferred from the customer’s account to the market’s or association’s bank account.)

The staff person then issues scrip in the amount requested by the customer. The scrip can be either tokens or paper. (See the tab on the left, EBT SCRIP, for details and regulations.) The customer can use the scrip with vendors in the market to purchase eligible food products. At the end of the market day, vendors trade the scrip for cash, check, or a receipt for future payment from the market operator. The customer can return unused scrip for credit on her EBT card, or hold the scrip for later use. The operating market or association should maintain records and security systems for EBT scrip distribution and redemption. (See Staffing & Redemption Models)


How will this benefit my Farmers' Market or Farm?

CalFresh serves over 4 million clients with nearly $8 billion in federal nutrition benefits. When you add EBT access to your market, you open this $8 billion market to your farmers. Follow the steps in the Guide to learn how you can easily bring EBT access to your market!


CONTACT

Email: ebtassist@ecologycenter.org
Phone: 510-548-2220 x236
To receive our quarterly Farmers’ Market EBT Newsletter email us.

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. USDA is an equal opportunity provider.

FNS Application

Markets can fill out an online application. You will be required to create a username and password, which expire after 30 days. You can save and return to your application within that 30-day window.

Once you submit the online application, you must print out the signature page and send it along with supporting documentation, which varies depending on the markets’ ownership type. See below for more on supporting documentation.

For umbrella organizations/farmers’ market associations applying for multiple farmers’ markets, you will first need to obtain a signed MOU from FNS and then send a completed FNS 252-C spreadsheet with information about each of your farmers’ markets.

Once the application is approved, USDA will issue your market or association a FNS number. Your farmers’ market is then considered an Authorized Retailer and may accept SNAP. From the time FNS receives the completed application, including the signature page and documentation, the authorization typically takes 30-45 days.

Note: A farmers’ market does not have to be a Certified Farmers’ Market to become an authorized SNAP retailer. See the FNS website. If you are a Flea Market or Produce Market, see Additional Information.  To apply online, click here.

FNS Application Tips

Basic Info – Market Opening Date (Q. 1):

Enter a date within 30 days from the time that you are applying, even if your expected opening date is later. FNS understands that the full process for farmers’ markets to be equipped to accept EBT can take up to 60 days.

Basic Info – Market Address (Q. 4):

Enter a street address, rather than an intersection or description.

Accountability Info – Ownership Type (Q. 10):

Certified farmers’ markets are operated by either:

  • a farmer (Sole Proprietorship)
  • a Nonprofit Organization
  • a city (Government Owned)

Accountability Info – Employer Identification & Social Security Info (Q. 12):

  • Sole Proprietors should enter an EIN number, if applicable. Additionally, the Responsible Official of the Sole Proprietorship will need to enter his/her Social Security number.
  • Nonprofits should enter the organization’s EIN number when prompted. The Responsible Official will not be asked for a Social Security number.
  • Government owned markets will not be prompted to enter an EIN number nor a Social Security number.

Accountability Info – Responsible Official (Q. 12):

Only one “Responsible Official”— such as an owner, market manager, city employee or a nonprofit board officer — is needed. The Responsible Official should be able to legally act on behalf of the organization/market, agrees to sign the application and take responsibility for any violations of regulations. Consider selecting a Responsible Official who will remain affiliated with the market in the future.

For Sole Proprietors and Nonprofit Organizations, you will need to select a Title to proceed with the application. Your choices are Owner or Spouse. Select “Owner,” even though you are not necessarily the owner of the market.

Sales Info – Total Retail Sales (Q.17):

Estimate total sales of the entire market. If you cannot estimate or do not know the total sales, list total sales as $1 so the application can be processed.

Inventory Info – Food Categories (Q. 18):

FNS wants to ensure that the majority of the products sold at the farmers’ market are CalFresh eligible. Include the bakery, egg vendor, cheese-maker and other non-certified vendors, as well as certified agricultural vendors.


Supporting Documentation

After successfully submitting the online application, applicants will receive a generic email with instructions indicating which documents are required, and where to send them. Only US Postal Service mail will be accepted.

All applicants should print, sign and submit the Certification and Signature Statement, as well as copies of any business licenses, if applicable.

Currently, the email instructs all applicants to mail a copy of a photo ID and social security card. However, that is only applicable to Sole Proprietors, as described below.

  • A Sole Proprietor must provide a copy of his/her photo ID (such as a driver’s license) and a copy of his/her social security card. If a social security card is not available, then a W-2 or 1099 form can be submitted in lieu of the card. If neither of those are available, send the first page of a tax return if prepared by a third party, along with the signature page.
  • A Nonprofit may provide the following optional documentation. Note, applications will be processed without these documents, but they may expedite the authorization process.
    • Copy of nonprofit IRS 501(c) letter
    • If the Responsible Official is someone other than a board member (e.g. a market manager) a Nonprofit may also provide an official letter indicating that the Responsible Official represents the organization.
  • Government owned markets need not submit any additional documentation, EIN number nor Social Security number. Government owned markets, must, however, submit the Certification and Signature Statement.


CONTACTS

Ecology Center Farmers’ Market EBT Program
510-548-2220 x236
ebt@ecologycenter.org

Dianne Padilla-Bates
California Department of Social Services (CDSS)
916-654-1396
dianne.padilla-bates@dss.ca.gov

Robin Masters
FNS USDA
317-478-3180
robin.masters@fns.usda.gov

FNS Customer Service Hotline
1-877-823-4369

Point Of Sale (POS) Device


The next step is to obtain your FREE Point of Sale (POS) Device from the California Department of Social Services (CDSS), or select an alternative provider. We recommend the CDSS machine because it it free and the state of California will pay all of the associated fees!

Contact CDSS

As soon as you submit your FNS application and receive your temporary FNS number, contact Dianne Padilla-Bates, at CDSS, so she can get your market(s) into her system. You need not wait until you receive the SNAP permit/authorization.

Dianne will send you a short questionnaire to determine your eligibility for a wireless device. Most farmers’ markets are eligible, as they do not typically have access to electricity or phone lines.

Be sure to inform the Ecology Center and Dianne of all market locations, days, and times where you intend to accept EBT, as both agencies maintain a list of all EBT accessible California farmers‘ market locations as well as those that offer incentives.

Once your FNS application is approved (authorization can take up to 45 days), CDSS will provide a FREE wireless POS device to any farmers’ market or farmers’ market association accepting EBT. FNS will send an email both to the farmers’ market contact and to CDSS when your FNS application has been approved. Dianne will arrange for a wireless POS to be ordered for your market(s).

Note: The State of California covers all fees related to the POS. Farmers’ markets do not incur any costs when using a CDSS-issued POS. The CDSS-provided POS device can NOT accept credit and debit cards.


Alternate Technology

There are a number of other point of sale options, some of which can be used with an iphone or ipad. These alternatives may not be cost free, meaning that you may have to pay for the equipment, and a per-transaction fee for CalFresh EBT transactions. However, these options might be right for you if you wish to also accept credit and debit cards and do not want to have two machines.

The Farmers’ Market Coalition, in partnership with USDA, provides additional information about alternate technological solutions. For a limited time, FMC can offer markets several years of free service through three primary providers: MarketLink, MerchantSource, and TSYS.

MarketLink
MarketLink is a program of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP) launched in 2013 to connect farmers, markets and consumers through technology. MarketLink equipment, which utilizes iPhone technology, is free. However, unlike the CDSS-issued POS devices, after the initial trial period, there are ongoing service costs, transaction fees and early contract termination fees.

MerchantSource
MerchantSource allows for a month-to-month contract, with no contract termination fees, however, after the initial trial period, there are ongoing service costs and transaction fees.

TSYS
TSYS allows for a month-to-month contract, with no contract termination fees, however, after the initial trial period, there are ongoing service costs and transaction fees.

See more about the Farmers’ Market Coalition Participating Service Providers here.


Contacts

Note: The State of California covers all fees related to the POS. Farmers’ markets do not incur any costs when using a CDSS-issued POS.

Dianne Padilla-Bates
California Department of Social Services
916-654-1396
Dianne.padilla-bates@dss.ca.gov

Farmers’ Market Coalition
202-650-9085
ebt@farmersmarketcoalition.org

Amy Crone
MarketLink
443-212-8084
info@marketlink.org

CDSS POS Device Contract

If you have chosen the free Point Of Sale (POS) option from CDSS, when FNS approves your application, Dianne will send you a contract from FIS Government Solutions, the company contracted by the State of California to provide wireless EBT services. If it has been 45 days or more from when you submitted your FNS application AND mailed in your supporting documentation, and you have not heard from FNS or CDSS, you should contact FNS immediately to ensure they received your paperwork.

Once you sign the contract for a wireless POS device, FIS Government Solutions will then set up an account and program a POS device with your identifying information to enable EBT to be deposited directly in your bank account. A FIS Government Solutions representative will train market staff in the operation of the device, and will be available to assist if you experience technical problems or have a defective device.

The state will pay for these services. If you have any problems reaching FIS Government Solutions, or do not receive a timely response to issues, contact Dianne Padilla-Bates at CDSS immediately.

About two weeks after FIS Government Solutions receives your signed contract, you should receive your wireless POS device. This device will process EBT transactions only. It does not have the option to accept debit or credit cards. If you would like to set up a system to accept credit and debit cards, see Alternate Technology in the Point of Sale (POS) Device tab above.

CDSS may be able to provide a POS device for each individual market accepting CalFresh. Contact Dianne for details.

Note: A market may also choose to offer a customer access to her EBT Cash Benefits (CalWORKs) when setting up its POS device with FIS Government Solutions. Unlike CalFresh, CalWORKs Benefits can be spent on almost anything (rent, bills, groceries, etc.). This means that if your market does not set-up a separate scrip system, you must ensure that the customer understands that the EBT Scrip is good for CalFresh eligible foods only.

EBT Scrip

Designing and ordering your EBT Scrip is the next step. If you wish, you may do this before you receive FNS authorization. The scrip design does not have to be approved by state or federal entities, however there are some design requirements for all farmers’ market EBT scrip. See EBT Scrip Design Requirements below.

The market operator is responsible for scrip design and cost. The Ecology Center Farmers’ Market EBT Program may be able to assist by designing, ordering and/or purchasing EBT scrip for California Certified Farmers’ Markets. If you require assistance with this, please contact us!

materials & quantity

  • Paper is physically easier to handle than tokens, but potentially more easily counterfeited. If you use paper scrip, “Kant Kopy” paper or similar non-photocopyable paper is recommended.
  • Tokens can be cumbersome in large quantities, but are long-lasting and are less prone to counterfeit.
  • While “wooden nickels” are very popular, plastic tokens are thinner and more durable, but more expensive than wood.
  • Markets that expect a high EBT volume may choose metal tokens and a coin counter to reduce staff time counting the EBT scrip.
  • 1000 tokens is suitable for most mid-size markets. Smaller markets (<10 vendors) may only need 500 tokens. For wooden nickels, 500 tokens cost approximately $110 and 1000 tokens cost approximately $140. Large markets may want to consider greater quantities.
  • Printing or stamping serial numbers on all scrip is optional, and increases the cost.


design requirements

  • Market or association name or logo
  • Must say “NO CHANGE GIVEN”
  • Must say “EBT SCRIP”
  • Token denominations can be $.50 or $1.00 ONLY


contacts

Wooden Nickel Company
800-750-9915
www.wooden-nickel.com

Plasco Token Factory
888-486-5367
www.tokenfactory.com

Ecology Center Farmers’ Market EBT Program
510-548-2220 x236
ebt@ecologycenter.org

Staffing & Redemption Models


The POS device and responsible staff-person should be easily located by customers. The ideal location is a clearly marked, staffed market information table, office or vehicle. Likewise, redeeming EBT scrip should be simple and expedient for market vendors and farmers.

If you do not have the staff or funding to staff an information table, OR you expect to have very high volumes of EBT sales, the staffing and redemption ideas below may be right for you.

If you aren’t sure which will be best, or you have a unique market situation, we are available to help with this. Please contact us!

Staffing models

If the market has no staffed information table, office or vehicle, see some creative solutions include:

  • The market manager carries the POS device and tokens with her and wears a conspicuous uniform like a yellow shirt or red cap and a name badge. A sign in the middle of the market says, “To use your CalFresh EBT card, see Mary, wearing a red cap.”
  • A farmer or vendor agrees to do EBT/scrip transactions for the market at his/her stall
  • The market management sets up a revenue generating activity to pay for the staff time of the individual who operates the POS device and administers EBT scrip, e.g. selling T-shirts
  • A community organization, such as a food bank, staffs the EBT table potentially in conjunction with other funded activities such as nutrition education or SNAP outreach
  • A small increase in stall fees to pay the wages of a person to staff an EBT transaction table at market


redemption models

The vendor reimbursement procedure for EBT Scrip redemption should be fair and manageable for both market staff and vendors. Only vendors of eligible food items may be reimbursed for scrip.

Models for reimbursement systems include:

  • Cash reimbursement at the time the vendor turns in the tokens (or in place of a stall fee)
  • A check written by the manager to the vendor at the time the vendor turns in the tokens
  • A receipt given by the manager to the vendor at the time the vendor turns in the tokens, with a check or cash given to the vendor for the amount of the receipt the following week

Record Keeping & Accounting


Record keeping and accounting is important at any farmers’ market. Adding a CalFresh EBT program means accounting for a new form of currency in the market. The amount of CalFresh sold (distributed scrip) and redeemed by vendors will not always be the same, as sometimes customers hold on to the scrip for use on another day. Because outstanding scrip is a liability for your market or organization, it is important that you account for it and ensure that the funds are earmarked.

Likewise, the market manager, Board Treasurer or Bookkeeper will want to make sure that all CalFresh EBT transactions post to the market’s bank account.

Best Practices

Best Practices for Record-Keeping and Accounting Systems

  • Treat EBT scrip like you would any currency. Never leave scrip unattended at the info booth.
  • Some markets opt to check in and out a pre-determined amount of scrip to the market manager at the beginning and end of the market day. This method ensures checks and balances for the EBT currency.
  • Your wireless POS device will generate a record of total transactions after each market day. This can assist with the end of market-day reconciliation between scrip distributed and redeemed.
  • You should record the number of tokens/vouchers you redeem from each vendor each day and the total number of tokens redeemed each day.
  • The record of total transactions and the daily total of tokens redeemed will be different, as some tokens are kept by customers to spend, or vendors to redeem another day.
  • The outstanding amount should be earmarked in case the scrip is redeemed at a later date.
  • Sample record-keeping forms are available under Templates below.


Vendor Education

Educate Vendors in Scrip Redemption Rules and Procedures

Vendor education is an ongoing process. The market operator should educate returning vendors and new employees about EBT scrip, how the process works, and which products are eligible. SNAP rules state no U.S. currency is to be given as change and that each customer must receive full value for scrip.

Vendors should be able to direct customers, who want to shop with their EBT cards, to the information booth or staff person to get scrip. Further, vendors can help to promote EBT use at the market through their interactions with customers. For resources on vendor education in English and Spanish, click on templates below.

Templates

Sometimes it may be neccessary to provide a “cheat sheet” for your market vendors. This is especially useful if you have multiple types of market currency (EBT, Credit/Debit, WIC, incentives.) A cheat sheet will provide the information about the program to your vendors, including photos of your various market currencies. If you want assistance modifying these templates, please contact us.

Farmer/Vendor Handouts:

At-Market and Community Promotion

Here you will find editable promotional materials like posters and banners for establishing and promoting your market’s EBT program.

We may be able to assist farmers’ markets in need with design, order and purchase of EBT Scrip as well as other promotional materials. Please contact us for more details.

At Market Promotion

The very first place you want to promote your CalFresh EBT program is at your market! Be sure to hang clear, visible signage that alerts customers that they can use their benefits there. If you do not have a central table or information booth, make sure that there is signage directing customers to where they can swipe their card.

You can download free signage and customizable outreach brochures and posters under Templates below.

For other promotional ideas, visit the FNS website.


Community Promotion & Education

Keeping your market accessible to all customers entitles bragging rights. Send out a press release, post it on your website and marketing materials, and include it on all posters and flyers distributed throughout your community!

When conducting outreach, consider joining forces with other farmers’ markets in your county, as well as local organizations and social service agencies, to launch an outreach campaign. Distribute informational and promotional flyers through your community’s faith groups, local coffee shops, and community and senior centers. Consider translating your materials so they are accessible to non-English speakers. Finally, remember to promote your market’s new EBT Program during market events such as grand openings, tastings, and cooking demos!


Farmers' Market Finder

Get included in our online and mobile Farmers’ Market Finder tool (FMFinder.org.) Please visit the site and check your market’s information. If your market info needs to be updated, or you have newly added EBT access, please email us at FMFinder@ecologycenter.org.

Templates

FREE! Our new beautifully designed informational and outreach materials for use at your market and in your community. We have the following bilingual materials available for markets, free of charge. You may also download and print on your own by clicking the links. Please contact us at ebtassist@ecologycenter.org to receive some by mail. Be sure to tell us the type of scrip you are using (tokens or paper) and the quantity of each type that you require.

For each, a BLEED (for a professional printer) and NO-BLEED (for in-house printing) version is provided.

This 11″ x 17″ information booth poster describes the EBT process both verbally and visually. There are separate English and Spanish versions, and each also has paper scrip/vouchers and token options.

This 8.5″ x 11″ bilingual English/Spanish vendor booth sign offers two options – one with paper scrip/vouchers and the other tokens.

FREE! Pre-printed banner (old version), pins and coupons for use at your market and in your community. To request free materials by mail, please contact ebtassist@ecologycenter.org

This 2′ x 5′ bilingual English/Spanish banner, visually depicts the scrip/central POS model (using wooden tokens) and is a great addition to your information booth or EBT station.

We Gladly Accept Your EBT pins can be worn by both vendors and market staff. The pins, which picture the CA EBT card, are available in two versions: 1) red, heart-shaped strawberry flesh background; or, 2)  green background.

These bilingual materials may be downloaded and printed for free, but we do not have any to provide markets at this time.

This 11″ x 17″ bilingual English/Spanish poster lets customers know that EBT is coming soon to your market.

This 2′ x 5′ bilingual English/Spanish banner visually depicts the scrip/central POS model and is a great addition to your information booth or EBT station. There are two versions, one depicting paper scrip/vouchers and the other tokens.

This 11″ x17″ bilingual English/Spanish poster is a great outreach tool in your community. Simply add in your market(s) information.

These 8.5″ x 5.5″ (half-sheet) bilingual English/Spanish flyers can be disseminated in your community. Simply add in your market(s) information.


Contacts

For free, printed signage, contact:

Ecology Center Farmers’ Market EBT Program
510-548-2220 x236
ebt@ecologycenter.org

Dianne Padilla-Bates
California Department of Social Services (CDSS)
916-654-1396
dianne.padilla-bates@dss.ca.gov

Incentive Programs

Market Match is the state’s largest CalFresh (SNAP) incentive program. It is led by the Ecology Center and offered by a network of 40 farmers’ market partners, at more than 260 sites. If you are interested in learning more about Market Match, please visit the Market Match website for more information, or contact Carle Brinkman, carle@ecologycenter.org

Additional Information

Some markets don’t fit the mould. If you need more info about making CalFresh EBT access work for your market, check out these topics, or contact us today.

Offering Credit and Debit on the POS Device

The POS device provided by the state will process EBT transactions only, without fees. It does not have the option to accept debit or credit cards. If you would like to set up a system to accept credit and debit cards (where the market sells differently-marked scrip to credit and debit card holders for a small fee) in addition to accepting EBT, you will need to obtain and pay for equipment from a private vendor. Many markets throughout the country have found that offering this service increases market sales.

As we covered earlier in the Guide, there are a number of providers, not cost free, that would allow you to accept credit, debit and EBT on the same device. See more about the Farmers’ Market Coalition Participating Service Providers here.

For more information about wireless credit/debit/EBT transaction contact:

Ben Feldman
Food and Farming Program Director
Ecology Center
510-548-3333
ben@ecologycenter.org


Assembly Bill 537

In cases where market operators do not take on the responsibility of implementing EBT, an association of vendors can be formed and may apply for and implement the system on behalf of the other market vendors. An association of eligible vendors should be formed by each vendor/member signing an agreement to be a member and to follow SNAP vendor rules and market scrip handling rules. The association representative, can apply to FNS as the “owner” of the farmers’ association and will be responsible for maintaining the FNS license in his name, along with any EBT Point of Sale (POS) device and scrip.

If you are interested in this model, contact us and we can connect you with organizations that have taken on this role.


Flea Markets and Swap Meets

A flea market or swap meet must form a Farmers’ Market Business Association, with only eligible food vendors as members, before applying with FNS. The flea market manager, or a representative willing to take responsibility for enforcing the rules, can apply to FNS as the “owner” of the farmers’ market. Your application should be in the name of this “farmers’ market” as flea markets are not usually eligible to qualify as SNAP retailers. USDA regulation states:

“More than one-half (50%) of the total dollar amount of all things (food, non-food, gas and services) sold in the store must be from the sale of eligible staple foods.”

Support our Work!

In order to do this important work, the Ecology Center relies on donations from people like you. If you can support our work by making a contribution to the Ecology Center, please do! The Ecology Center is a federally recognized 501 (c)3 non-profit and all donations are tax-deductible. Click here for more information.

Donate

This project has been funded at least in part with Federal funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The contents of this publication do not necessarily reflect the view or policies of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. USDA is an equal opportunity provider.