Lawmakers Sow Seeds To Grow SNAP Users At Farmers Markets

Apr 4, 2014

Credit Cleber Mori

Lawmakers are getting a green thumbs up for plan to give food stamp recipients more access to farmers markets.

As part of a push to help the state’s low income residents get more access to fresh fruit and vegetables, Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando) is sponsoring a bill that would make it easier for farmers market vendors to accept electronic benefits cards from food stamp recipients.

“They could get fresh produce in their communities if there were people who had the technology to allow them to make those purchases, however many of the fresh produce markets don’t have the technology so this would authorize a third party that’s been recognized by the USDA to provide that service,” Thompson says.

At the Lake Ella Farmers Market in Tallahassee Randy Carey is selling eggs and organic produce grown by his co-op, Johnnies Garden. Carey says he already uses a system that lets him accept electronic payments.

“Most vendors now days have a program on their phone that they can take debit cards, credit cards and checks and it’s mobile merchant transfers so if it would work on that system and if the system that particular merchant has could accept those, then as far as we’re concerned it’s just a purchase. Period,” Carey says.

Carey says accepting food stamps used to be a difficult process because it involved actually collecting something and then seeking reimbursement. But he says now that it’s a simple automatic money transfer he’s not worried about it. Meanwhile, across the market, Jack Simmons is manning his booth.

Simmons doesn’t accept any electronic payments when he sells at farmers markets. He says it’s complicated – and what’s more, he doesn’t need to.

“I sell all the stuff for cash so why would I do something more complex than that,” Simmons says.

Simmons says it doesn’t make sense for him to invest the time or money in the equipment to accept electronic payments since he’s already selling out without it. And he says he’s not worried about Thompson’s bill giving his competition a leg up.

“There’s no competition in this business. The more people…in the first place, there’s almost no small organic farms left. In this area there’s probably two or three,” Simmons says.

And  in fact Thompson’s bill could help Simmons find additional customers since it could mean some markets he visits would have a third party operator with its own electronic payment hardware so Simmons and other farmers wouldn’t have to buy their own.

Thompson’s bill passed its committee unanimously. A similar bill in the House is heading for a floor vote.