By Nicole Montesano • Staff Writer • 

More SNAP in the market

The USDA said new data shows more than 5,000 farmers markets, fruit stands and u-pick operations are now accepting food stamps, up from just 753 in 2008. And recipients have responded, redeeming more than $21 million dollars at such venues last year, the agency said.

Of the three regular farmers markets in Yamhill County, the long-running McMinnville Farmers Market, which operates from 1 to 6 p.m. on Thursday from late May to early October, is the only one currently offering SNAP benefits.

Rebecca Quandt, who does promotions and marketing for the McMinnville Downtown Association, which sponsors the market, said it began accepting food stamps in 2012. Participants exchange their food stamps for wooden tokens at the Downtown Association information booth, she said, and then use the tokens to make purchases from the vendors.

The first year, she said, the market logged $4,264 worth of food stamp purchases. She said the figure rose to $5,291 last year and is running $2,568 so far this year.

“Many people that come to the market have no idea that we are accepting SNAP, so my goal for the years to come is to really market and promote this wonderful service,” Quandt said. “It might be a lofty goal, but I hope we double the amount of SNAP transactions by 2016.”

She works in the information booth, and said she enjoys chatting with visitors about the SNAP program.

“Literally, their eyes light up when they realized they can buy fresh, local produce directly from farmers,” Quandt said. “Seeing young mothers with their kids walking around the markets with their wooden tokens is priceless.

"The SNAP program at the McMinnville Farmers Market has truly grown into so much more than just an assistance program. It has brought community members together and provided a way for people to see and talk to their local farmer.

She said, "I see children learning the value of a dollar when purchasing produce with their tokens, as well as learning the different types of vegetables and fruits, and how and when to grow them. I have met some incredible people through the SNAP program, and am excited to see how it grows in the years to come.”

Sue Sanders, co-manager of the Farmers Market at the Grange, which operates from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays on a year-around basis, said she has signed her booth up for the SNAP program. However, she said she won't be able to begin accepting food stamps until she adds food items to her inventory.

She said the market itself hopes to begin accepting food stamps in a year or so, as it grows and attracts more vendors. “I would love to see people who are on food stamps have more access to fresh foods and vegetables,” she said.

The Newberg Farmers Market, which operates from 1:30 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays from late May through late September, is currently in discussions with SNAP officials, said Manager Mike Ragsdale.

The USDA supports providing more places for SNAP participants to purchase food directly from local farmers, saying it figures to boost local economies, support family farming and foster better consumer access to healthy food. They agency believes that can help reduce health problems, and thus governmental health costs, on down the line.

“On average, about 20 cents of every SNAP dollar spent on food ends up in the pockets of American farmers," said Undersecretary Kevin Concannon.

“America’s farmers offer a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables that are the foundation of a healthy diet, and USDA has made it a priority to improve direct access between farmers and SNAP participants over the past several years. Healthy eating reduces health risks later in life, which helps reduce our nation’s health costs over the long run."

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service has been trying to expand the availability of wireless point-of-sale equipment allowing more farmers markets to participate in SNAP directly, without having to even use markets as go-betweens. Launched in January 2014, is a website where farmers' markets and farmers can find out how to participate in SNAP and how to obtain SNAP EBT equipment.

SNAP is one of 15 nutrition assistance programs administered at the federal level by the FNS. Nearly half of participants are children.

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