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Grants open door for food stamps at farmers markets

Foothills Farmer Market Association to begin taking food stamps in July
By: Justin A. Lawson Journal Staff Writer
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The Electronic Benefit Transfer program, or food stamps, has increasingly become easier to use over the years with a change to a debit card-like system to widespread acceptance at places such as Costco. But with the change has also come the acceptance at liquor stores, which offer little to no nutritional value with their selection of candy bars and sodas. The federal government and several other organizations are looking to bridge the nutritional divide with grants to allow low-income customers an opportunity to make healthy selections at farmers markets. The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday a $4 million nationwide grant to help bring about 7,100 farmers markets on to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. California, which has more than 700 farmers markets according to the 2011 National Farmers Market Directory, is expected to receive $426,945 in grants. ?I personally think it?s a great idea,? said Ralene Snow, owner of Snow?s Citrus Court in Newcastle. ?I would be happy that people who aren?t eating well will have the opportunity to purchase really good food that?s really fresh and good for them.? The Foothill Farmers Market Association, which operates two markets in Auburn, is already ahead of the curve. It received $44,000 in grants in October to get the program started and expects to be up and running by July. The group plans to apply for the USDA grants as well but will start the food stamp program at the DeWitt Center location in the meantime with plans to expand to the Old Town Auburn and Roseville markets. ?It?s expensive for people to shop at the farmers market for people who are on food stamps and that?s been indentified all across the nation; that?s a huge barrier for people,? said Carol Arnold, executive director of the association. To bridge the financial gap the program will allow customers to swipe their card for a lesser amount but receive more tokens to purchase food. The exact amounts haven?t been determined yet, but one example is a customer would swipe the card for $5 but receive $20 worth of tokens. The program is a win-win for customers and farmers, Arnold said. After the customer pays with the tokens, the Foothill Farmers Market Association cuts a check to the farmer, which leaves out the red tape that is often a point of contention in farm subsidies. ?I?ve actually talked to people in Washington D.C. about the beauty of this program because it?s so direct on both ends,? Arnold said. ?You get food to the people who need it and you get money in the farmers? pockets.?