Updated: 06/09/2014 4:27 PM
Created: 06/08/2014 6:23 PM KSTP.com
By: Beth McDonough
Half of the state's 145 farmers markets now take EBT cards. They're the replacement for food stamps and function like a debit card.
This month, another farmers market in the metro will be added to the list in Brooklyn Park. It's part of a growing effort to expand access to healthy food for low-income Minnesotans.
People like Daphne Sherard, who lives on a fixed income, relies on government assistance to put healthy food on her family's table. Sherard prefers to shop at the Minneapolis Farmers Market for produce, because she can buy more garden goods and buy Minnesota grown.
"The quality is better. You can really see and taste the freshness of the food compared to the grocery store because you don't know how long it's been sitting at the grocery store," Sherard said.
She also said meat, poultry, fish, eggs, fruits and vegetables cost less.
For instance, she can purchase three buckets of berries for $5. To her, every dollar counts.
Pat Nelson, the Assistant Market Manager says, "it’s encouraging healthy eating practices."
Here's how it works: folks with EBT cards decide how much money they want to spend, and then swipe their card on a machine. Instead of dollars, customers get small wooden tokens to use as payment.
Shoppers can spot which vendors take tokens by a sign. Ninety vendors do, the newest to sign on is Mon Petit Cheri. So far, EBT customers are a small piece of her baked goods company, "less than 15 percent so far, but I'm brand new to the program so I hope that number will increase as the weekends and years go on," Emily Rheingans said.
In 2011, the Minneapolis Farmers Market rang up $29,000 in EBT transactions. Since then, "every year we've been seeing 10-15 percent increase in usage," Nelson said.
Last summer, EBT sales at the Minneapolis market topped $50,000.
In years past, many farmers markets simply didn't take EBT cards because they couldn't afford the machines to process the cards. That's quickly changing thanks to state funds, grants and donors.
Also new this year is market bucks. The program matches a customer’s first $5 they swipe, so they essentially get $10 bucks to increase their purchasing power.
The Department of Human Services says the matching money helps bring in more EBT customers.