Ecology Center Helps California Farmers’ Markets Accept Food Stamps

The Berkeley Farmers’ Markets were the first markets in the state to accept EBT – the electronic benefits transfer cards that replaced paper food stamps. Using free state-provided wireless card terminal, we swipe the benefit cards and issue tokens for scrip that EBT cardholders can use to buy produce from the farmers. Since that beginning in August 2002, the Ecology Center has been a major influence in bringing the number of California farmers’ market’s that accept EBT cards to more than one hundred, with California transacting more EBT business at farmers’ markets than any other state in 2009.

Former Berkeley Farmers’ Market Manager Penny Leff has been continuing our work by heading up the Ecology Center Farmers’ Market EBT Project, which works with farmers’ market managers, associations and community partners throughout California, offering experienced help with setting up staffing, accounting, vendor training and token redemption systems tailored to the different markets’ sizes and volume of EBT use. The project also provides free tokens and customized designs for at-market signs and promotional posters and fliers.

Over the years, many farmers markets around the state have contacted the Ecology Center for help and guidance. With the current economic downturn, more people qualify for food stamps. We have focused our recent efforts on helping farmers’ markets in the Central Valley and Northern California to accept EBT.

Oroville Certified Farmers’ Market manager Bill Kinnicutt has seen a lot of changes at farmers’ markets since he started the Redding farmers’ market in 1978. On September 18, 2010, he was part of one more change as he swiped the first food stamp EBT card to be used at the Oroville market, counting out 20 wooden tokens for the farmers’ market’s first EBT customer to shop with for fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy foods. For Chico Certified Farmers’ Market Association Director Terry Givens, this simple card-swipe represented the result of months of work completing applications, setting up systems, and preparing vendors, customers and staff for EBT access at her four Butte County markets. Lauren Thomas, a food stamp outreach intern with Chico State’s Center for Nutrition & Activity Promotion, was also at the market to see the first EBT transactions. She will take on the challenge of getting out the word to EBT cardholders that they can now use their cards at Chico Certified Farmers’ Market Association’s markets, as well as at several smaller Butte County farmers’ markets.

Butte County unemployment rate was 13.8 percent in August 2010. Oroville is in a part of Butte County particularly hard hit by the recession, with many families needing food assistance, often for the first time in their lives. Participants in the Food Stamp Program (Now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP) are issued an EBT card which allows them to access their food benefits by using the card like a debit card when they shop for groceries. EBT cardholders can now use their cards to shop at the Oroville, Chico and Paradise Certified Farmers’ Markets, with help from a free wireless equipment provided by the California Department of Social Services and free wooden tokens and technical assistance provided by the Ecology Center’s Farmers’ Market EBT Project, which is funded in part by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

For more information about the Ecology Center’s Farmers’ Market EBT Project, see www.ecologycenter.org/ebt, or contact project manager (and former Berkeley Farmers’ Market program manager) Penny Leff at ebt@ecologycenter.org or 530.902.9763.


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