MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Many of Minnesota’s farmers markets expect more customers this year after the USDA approved a program that allows consumers to pay with food stamps.
The Midtown Farmers Market in Minneapolis opened Saturday, and says that on the first day of the season more than a dozen customers signed up to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to buy food.
“You can get fresh crops, fresh fruit, from the farmer; it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Catherine Pearson, a new customer from Elk River, Minn.
This is how it works: Customers swipe their card and receive tokens to spend on produce. The Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Services is also offering an incentive – $5 extra for people who spend their EBT card on local food this summer.
The Minneapolis Farmers Market on Lyndale Avenue will accept food stamps starting next Saturday at 7 a.m.
“It just caught on amazingly,” said Sandy Hill, the EBT manager at the Lyndale Avenue farmers market.
Hill says a three month trial run last summer drew more than 1,000 customers, but with a May kickoff, Hill expects three times as many people to use EBTs this year. The Minneapolis Farmers Market spent a year working with the USDA before launching the program, according to Hill.
“We are considered a desert spot, there is not enough produce for people in the community here, this is an attribute for them, they are thrilled to be able to come down here and buy it,” Hill said.
The cost effective solution also gives local farmers a boost, but Hill believes most importantly, it nourishes people in need.
“It’s piece of mind, it is fresh, coming from the maker,” said Pearson, who said she’ll be back next Saturday to shop for her family.
The Minnesota Department of Human Services says 13 of the state’s roughly 140 farmers markets now accept food stamps, and dozens more are expected to follow.