Getting healthy, high-quality produce in the hands of low-income people is one of the most important issues facing sustainable food advocates. Since the federal government replaced paper food stamps with debit cards more than five years ago, farmers market organizers have struggled to find ways to make market produce available to food stamp recipients.
Today, about 40 million American receive food stamps, but introducing electronic benefit transfer machines to markets is expensive. Dozens of cities around the country have added EBT terminals over the past two years, and our hometown of Chicago finally joined in this summer, with all five city-run markets now accepting food stamps. (Check out the handsome video at the top of this post from Groundswell Films.)
Making market produce available to food stamp recipients not only gives low-income shoppers access to good food, it also helps to support farmers by bringing more consumers (and federal funds) to markets. The next step for Chicago will be figuring out a way to make food stamp dollars go further, like in Boston, where shoppers receive double the value for food stamps spent at farmers markets.