Las Vegas Farmers Market now Accepting Food Stamps as Cash Payment

By NM Lorde

Nevada residents who are strapped for cash now have a better option for purchasing fresh, locally-grown produce.

The Las Vegas Farmers Market (with locations at Gardens Park, Bruce Trent Park and Floyd Lamb Park at Tule Springs) has recently installed EBT machines to be used to process payments for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program payments (or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).

It is currently the only farmers’ market in the state of Nevada that accepts SNAP benefits.

“It’s really wonderful for the community,” says Ginger Johnson, who, with her husband Steve, opened the Las Vegas Farmers Market over a decade ago. “Many people come up and say, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t have been able to have a meal’ and it’s really cost-effective for them too. They are so thrilled that we have it. Thrilled!”

Only 1,500 of the nation’s roughly 7,100 farmers’ markets are set up to use the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. Last month, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Kathleen Merrigan, announced that the USDA will provide $4 million in grants to help expand availability of the EBT system at farmers’ markets not currently accepting SNAP benefits.

“This funding will help SNAP customers increase their opportunities to access healthy, local foods,” said Deputy Secretary Merrigan in a statement, “and evidence suggests they will take advantage of that access. When we couple this approach with strategies like the education, cooking demonstrations and community support often found at farmers’ markets, consumption of healthy foods should rise even more.”

The funding will be distributed using an allocation formula, weighted toward states that have a large number of farmers’ markets without SNAP capacity. The state of Nevada has 36 farmers’ markets and has been allocated $27,794 or 0.69 percent of the grant.

Of the $4 million grant, Merrigan said in a press conference that although it is not a huge amount of money, it can do huge things.

“We saw that in fiscal year 2008 we had redemption of $1.5 million in SNAP at farmers’ markets. Fast forward to fiscal year 2011, that’s $8 million. So in that time period, it was a 400-percent increase. If we get more farmers’ markets online with this capacity, who knows what that number might be next year?”

Sharon Murphy has been a vendor at the Las Vegas Farmers Market Bruce Trent Park location for the past two years. She says that although some people may not be used to the idea of going to a farmers’ market to utilize their SNAP benefits, the word is spreading and she has seen an increase in SNAP/EBT sales.

“It’s a good opportunity for people to get fresh produce and for many to buy fresh-baked breads where they can’t get them at the store,” says Murphy, who sells a variety of healthy breads as well as delicious baked goods at the market. “People are really excited when they realize that they can actually purchase breads along with the produce.”

With increased funding available from the government, will we see this program spread throughout other farmers’ markets across Nevada?

“I think eventually you will see them,” says Stella Guevara, SNAP program director for the Las Vegas Farmers Market. “But again, we’re the first ones sort of pioneering the program, so of course we have to develop everything from policies to procedures, to working with the USDA as well as the health department to figure out how it would work.”

For more information on the Las Vegas Farmers Market, please visit: www.lasvegasfarmersmarket.com/

For a list of farmers’ markets that accept SNAP benefits, please visit the USDA National Farmers Market Directory: http://farmersmarkets.usda.gov

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