More farmers are authorized to take SNAP as a payment method than ever before and more SNAP recipients are redeeming their benefits at farm stands and markets – to the tune of $18.8 million in FY 2014 alone.
That's a six-fold increase since 2008, USDA Under Secretary Kevin Concannon said Thursday during a visit to Philadelphia's Clark Park Farmers Market.
Since 2008, the number of SNAP-authorized farmers, roadside farm stands, and farmers markets grew from 753 to more than 6,400.
"All Americans, including those participating in our nutrition assistance programs, need to include more fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. America's farmers have an important role to play in addressing that need in communities across the country," Concannon said. "Accepting SNAP benefits also increases the customer base for local producers, adding an extra economic boost to the community."
Through a partnership with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, USDA provides free wireless equipment to qualifying farmers and farmers markets, enabling them to accept SNAP via electronic benefit transfers.
Additionally, in May, USDA announced the availability of $3.3 million in competitive funding to help farmers markets serve SNAP participants. Those awards will be announced in September.
USDA also recently awarded $31.5 million in funding to local, state, and national organizations to support programs that encourage SNAP participants to buy more fruits and vegetables. The projects will help policymakers determine how best to provide incentives to SNAP participants to increase healthy purchases, USDA said.
"Without farmers markets, roadside farm stands and farmers who sell directly to the public, residents of [food desert] communities may have to travel to grocery stores outside their area to obtain fresh produce or make-do with processed foods," Concannon said.
Expanding access to local food is a cornerstone of the USDA's Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food Initiative, a focus on local and regional food systems.
Local and regional food systems have been identified as one of the four pillars of rural economic development, along with production agriculture, the bio-based economy, and natural resources and conservation.