It is easier and more affordable than ever to accept SNAP (i.e. food stamps), at your farmers market. The USDA has allocated $4 million to a project that aims to increase access to SNAP at farmers markets across the country. This money is going towards a solution called MarketLink, which provides free card reader equipment, covers a portion of processing fees associated with running the machines, and provides technical support (even on the weekends!) to those using the MarketLink system. MarketLink is a full merchant services solution, enabling markets to accept credit and debit cards in addition to SNAP benefits. Please read the following guide to learn more about what it takes to accept SNAP at farmers markets. Any markets looking to build their own SNAP Based Incentive Program can contact email@example.com.
- MarketLink: Free Equipment and Services for Farmers and Farmers Markets
- Is accepting SNAP benefits right for my market?
- How do I create a payment system that will work at my market?
- What are SNAP Benefit Incentive Programs? How can they boost sales?
- Securing Success by Establishing Community Partners
- Case Study: SNAP Success in Pawtuxet Village!
MarketLink: Free Equipment and Services for Farmers and Farmers Markets
Check MarketLink.org to see if you are eligible! By answering 3 simple questions, and providing a valid email address, you can find out if you are eligible for free equipment and free processing and data services instantly. Any market that has not previously accepted SNAP benefits is eligible, and any individual farmer who does not sell at a SNAP enabled market is eligible. It is that simple.
What does MarketLink offer for qualifying vendors and markets? MarketLink offers a variety of devices, free if you qualify, but also available for purchase if you do not meet the criteria. MarketLink also offers a contract with WorldPay, a merchant services company, at competitive rates. For qualifying markets, this includes a data plan and no monthly fees for one year.
MarketLink Details for Qualifying Markets
How to apply to MarketLink: MarketLink streamlines applying to FNS to become a SNAP Retailer, finding the right equipment and data plans, setting up your merchant services account with WorldPay, and accessing technical support for configuring your system. The whole process can be completed within a month.
- Step 1: Determine eligibility on MarketLink website.
- Step 2: Apply for an FNS number (to register as a SNAP Retailer)
- Step 3: Fill out WorldPay agreement.
- Step 4: Configure equipment upon arrival.
What is FNS, and why do I need to apply? The Food and Nutrition Service is the USDA agency that oversees SNAP benefit distribution. To accept SNAP benefits, a farmer and/or farmers market must be authorized by FNS. Start your FNS application to accept SNAP benefits at your market. You will need:
- A valid email address
- A home address of the farmer or market manager
- A physical address for the place of sales
- A social security number and estimated sales for the year
After starting an online application, you have 30 days to mail in supporting documentation. Currently, FNS is approving new applicants within about a week.
More resources on MarketLink:
- Expanding SNAP Farmers Market Access through Innovative Partnerships
- Farmers Market Checklist
- New Resource Helps Farmers and Farmers Markets Accept SNAP Benefits
Is accepting SNAP benefits right for my market?Yes! Accepting SNAP can bring new customers to your market and is proven to increase sales. Also, if you implement the technology to accept SNAP, you are simultaneously implementing the technology to accept credit and debit cards. MarketLink explains that the data is conclusive about why you should accept electronic payments at your market:
- Only one-fourth of all sales transactions today are in cash and that number is getting smaller.
- One Michigan county pilot showed that accepting SNAP/EBT generated sales at their farmers markets of more than $117,000.
- 2013 Washington State University study of 17 farmers markets accepting SNAP/EBT, Debit, and Credit transactions revealed that only 6 percent of all transactions from July - October 2011 were in cash.
- The average electronic sale was $34.57.
- Total EBT, debit, and credit sales during the four-month period were $285,211.
- Accepting SNAP benefits at farmers markets increases access to low-income residents to fresh fruits and vegetables.
Below is Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s data on the growth of SNAP sales at their markets since they first accepted SNAP in 2007.
“My most persuasive argument for accepting SNAP is that you don’t know which of your customers might be using EBT. They might not be using it at your market because you don’t accept it. You don’t know. Or maybe customers who used to come to your market don’t come any more because their circumstances have changed. Accepting SNAP has brought more dollars into the market. It’s money that’s going to our farmers instead of corporate grocery stores. I would like to see more markets accept SNAP…I think it contributes to the sense of supporting community.” -Annemarie Bruun, Market Manager, Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market
How do I create a payment system that will work at my market?
Accepting Credit, Debit, and SNAP at farmers markets does add administrative responsibilities to the Market Manager’s plate. However, there are existing solutions that you can use to make the process seamless. In Rhode Island, Farm Fresh RI has invested in a Fresh Bucks token system that all markets can utilize. Here is their guide for how to implement Fresh Bucks at a market:
Fresh Bucks Token System in Rhode Island: Fresh Bucks are metal coins in denominations of $1 and $5, first created for the 2007 growing season. Fresh Bucks are an easy way to allow Credit Card users and Food Stamp / SNAP / EBT users to participate at your RI farmers' market.
Farmers market managers or farmstands can contact Georgina to purchase Fresh Bucks coins for use at their Rhode Island market. It is encouraged that markets keep Fresh Bucks in circulation through the season, and have materials to help explain Fresh Bucks to market-goers.
To help you model your use of Fresh Bucks, here's how it works at Farm Fresh RI markets. Fresh Bucks are provided as a service to encourage patronage of the local farmers' market. Farm Fresh RI runs a booth at the market that serves as a single "point of sale" with a wireless card-processing machine. Customers swipe a credit or debit card for $5 coins or an EBT card for $1 coins to spend at any food vendor. Food vendors can then redeem Fresh Bucks at the Farm Fresh booth and checks are written out to the farmers the following week (or by the end of the market day if you have the capacity to write checks to your vendors at the market).
There are currently no redemption fees for farms or other participating vendors. Customers with credit cards are charged $1 for each transaction to cover the 2-3% processing fees and wireless service that come with the system. There are no fees for customers with Food Stamps/SNAP/EBT cards.
Since $1 Fresh Bucks coins function as a scrip system that allows EBT users to participate in the market, the same restrictions that apply to EBT also apply to Fresh Bucks. (That is actually less of a limitation than you may think. EBT covers a much wider range of foods than WIC.) $1 coins can pay for any food item that is not served hot or for immediate consumption. $1 coins can also pay for food-growing plant starts. A cup of coffee, flowers, soap or a sandwich at the market is unfortunately off limits. Baked goods should be wrapped in a bag for consumption after the market. The USDA provides a full list of SNAP eligible items. Consistent with EBT rules, there is no change given for $1 coins. It's not very hard for customers to spend the full $1 and serves as a commitment to supporting local food producers.
Farm Fresh also offers Bonus Bucks in $1 denominations to customers using SNAP at the market. Read below for more information on the benefits of implementing a SNAP Based Incentive Program at your market.
It is the Market Manager’s responsibility to make sure all of the vendors know these details. It’s important to display EBT, Visa and Mastercard signage at the Welcome Table booth explaining Fresh Bucks to customers. Fresh Bucks also make great gifts! You can allow customers to buy them as a “gift certificate” to the market.
Farm Fresh RI will redeem Fresh Bucks from farmers and farmers' market managers for US dollars. Farmers at markets managed by Farm Fresh RI receive reimbursement by check every other week. We created two “Cheat Sheets” that Farm Fresh uses to explain the system to farmers, one cheat sheet for markets accepting SNAP and the other for markets accepting both SNAP and Bonus Bucks.
“The tokens are easy for the farmers. We have a volunteer who comes and collects the Fresh Bucks [every week], and she gives the vendors a check from the last week [at the same time]. The money from SNAP [and credit cards] goes right into the [farmers markets’] bank account…I really haven’t had any problems or discrepancies. ” -Annemarie Bruun, Market Manager, Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market
What are SNAP Based Incentive Programs? How can they boost sales?
In order to really make your market a SNAP success, you should consider implementing a SNAP Based Incentive Program. SNAP Based Incentive Programs are additional dollars offered to SNAP shoppers to spend only on local fresh fruits and vegetables. Markets can work with community partners and existing clientele to raise funds for their own incentive program.
Among low-income Rhode Islanders, pricing is commonly cited as a barrier to eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and other nutrient rich foods. SNAP Based Incentive Programs can:
- Boost income for market vendors
- Increase access to fresh fruit and vegetable for SNAP users
- Bring new customers to your market
- Direct a greater portion of SNAP dollars and local charitable dollars back into the local economy
- Support the overall health and nutrition of Rhode Island residents
Here are some resources on SNAP Based Incentive Programs, starting with Farm Fresh RI’s Bonus Bucks program.
- Farm Fresh RI's Bonus Bucks
- Toolkit Guide to Launching and Sustaining a SNAP Benefits Matching Program at Your Farmers Market (slightly outdated but very comprehensive)
- Wholesome Wave Double Value Coupon Program
- Improving Diets of Low-Income Americans through SNAP Pricing Incentives, a Johns Hopkins study
- New study on markets that use SNAP Based Incentive Programs
- The complete FNS study on SNAP Based Incentive Programs
- New York City’s Health Department Farmers’ Market Programs: Health Bucks Incentives Report
- SNAP Incentive Programs at Portland (Ore.) Farmers Market
Tips for Fundraising for your SNAP Incentive. Fundraising for SNAP Incentives can be manageable if you activate your community to help. Some ideas include:
- Have some young volunteers sell lemonade to customers at your market as a fundraiser. The Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market raised about $80 doing this in 2013.
- Put together a coupon book with $5 coupons from each vendor at your market. Sell raffle tickets as a fundraiser, and raffle off the coupon book to customers.
- Ask credit and debit customers to donate an extra dollar to their token transaction. Farm Fresh does this twice a year, once in the winter and once in the summer. September is Hunger Action Month every year, which is a great time to engage your community in this way.
- Approach a local bank and ask them to sponsor your market by donating to your SNAP Incentive fund.
- Ask your board, farmers and customers for fundraising ideas and volunteers. Your community may surprise you!
“Say you went to Price Rite and bought lettuce. It’s often a lot cheaper there than what you can find at the farmers market. With Bonus Bucks though, you can get the same quantity of lettuce for not too much more money.” -Annemarie Bruun, Market Manager, Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market
Securing Success by Establishing Community Partners
Your local community organizations can be real assets to your market. With few phone calls and meetings, you can make powerful community connections for your farm or market. Community partners can be neighborhood associations, churches, community action programs, environmental groups, city/town governments, and health centers. Forming these kinds of partnerships can strengthen outreach efforts, build community buy-in, and even attract funding for your market.
Note: Unless your market is a nonprofit, you will need a partnership to serve as a fiscal sponsor if you wish to accept donations. You can read about fiscal sponsorship here.
Case Study: SNAP Success in Pawtuxet Village
You have read quotes from Annemarie Brunn throughout this guide. Annemarie manages the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market, an independent market that runs weekly, year round, with indoor and outdoor locations in Cranston. The Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market has been accepting SNAP benefits for over 3 years. We include this story here to give you one example of a committed market manager who pushed hard to make SNAP and Bonus Bucks run at her market! Here’s how she did it.
Getting Started: Before MarketLink, accepting SNAP at a farmers market was more complicated, and Annemarie got some help from Farm Fresh Rhode Island to get started. Farm Fresh lent Annemarie a card reader machine for her market and sold her Fresh Bucks to use as her token system. The Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market was happy with their first year in SNAP sales, but wanted to do better. They decided to raise funds for a SNAP Based Incentive Program to help customers stretch their benefits. They raised $600 by raffling off coupon books offered by the market vendors. Just like Farm Fresh markets, Pawtuxet Village offered SNAP customers Bonus Bucks, an extra $2 for every $5 they charged to their EBT card. Bonus Bucks, as well increased community outreach over the seasons, have been crucial components to building Pawtuxet Village’s SNAP program.
“Our customers are really very supportive. They want their neighbors to be able to shop at the market, and they also want our farmers to get the benefit of getting those dollars. Everybody loves the idea of the Bonus Bucks.” -Annemarie Bruun, Market Manager, Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market
Community Partners: One community partner that Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market found is the West Bay Land Trust. Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market was able to connect with the Land Trust because some of their market farmers were on the Land Trust board. Now, the West Bay Land Trust helps promote the market, and the Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market helps promote awareness of the importance of local farmland preservation. This is a win-win for both partners! Annemarie hopes to partner with more medical offices and community organizations this year to get the word out that Pawtuxet Village Farmers Market and many other Rhode Island farmers markets accept SNAP.
Are you a farmer who wants to accept SNAP for your CSA? Here is a guide for how to make it happen!Other questions? Contact Kayla at firstname.lastname@example.org.