WDAY.com

WDAZ: Your Home Team

Published April 30, 2011, 04:35 PM

More MN Farmers Markets to Accept Food Stamps

More low-income Minnesotans will be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables because of a big jump in farmers markets that will accept food stamps this year.

By: Associated Press,

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — More low-income Minnesotans will be able to get fresh fruits and vegetables because of a big jump in farmers markets that will accept food stamps this year.

The Star-Tribune reports that eight new markets will allow customers with food stamps this year. That more than doubles the number of markets that accept food stamps as part of the Minnesota Farmers' Market Association.

"It's reaching out into the community and making sure that those who are economically disadvantaged have the same access to healthy food that everyone else does," said Deonna Bouska, operations manager for the Farmers' Market Association. "Vendors will be reaching out to a whole new consumer base."

There are estimated 130 formal farmers markets in Minnesota. Users of the federal program buy food with a card that's swiped like a credit card, providing challenges because the card reader needs an electrical or wireless connection. A new state grant is helping cover the costs of the readers.

Markets in Albert Lea, Alexandria, Austin, Bemidji, Bloomington, Duluth, Richfield and Staples are adding the capability this year, joining multiple markets in Minneapolis, Mankato, Rochester and St. Paul.

Many of the state's farmers markets already allow some food buying using paper vouchers from the programs, which are easy for vendors to cash. Last year, 35,800 families and nearly 6,700 seniors spent close to $508,000 at Minnesota farmers markets using low-income vouchers.

Jim Urie, who supervises Bloomington's farmers market, said the city has wanted to allow food stamp use at its rapidly growing market but hesitated because of set-up and administration complications.

The new grants will fund Bloomington's food stamp program for two seasons. The market will get a wireless card reader that takes not only food stamp cards and allows people with credit cards to buy tokens to use at the market.

Food stamp recipients are allowed to buy only fresh produce, unprepared foods or vegetable and fruit seeds and plants. Transactions are tracked through the serial numbers on the tokens.

Bouska said the association hopes the expanded food stamp program encourages people who aren't familiar with farmers markets try out the experience of buying from local producers.

"Markets are social places," she said. "Vendors will talk to you about recipes, about how to use what you buy. ... We are really trying to drive this to the next level."

___

The Star-Tribune report can be found here: http://bit.ly/iQ97ro

Tags: