Food Stamp Redemptions at New Hampshire Farmers’ Markets
This report summarizes the activities and outcomes of the second year of a three year project which tests a system to reintroduce the use of food stamp benefits at farmers’ markets. The report includes the background, milestones, and outcomes outlined in the proposal.
Food Stamp Program participants receive their benefits through electronic transfers similar to bank debit cards. For state Food Stamp Programs the electronic benefit transfer card, or EBT, has the advantage of reducing administrative costs and fraud. For the food stamp benefit recipient, stigma attached to the program is reduced.
Electronic benefit technology (EBT), introduced in 1997 in New Hampshire, inadvertently excluded most farmers’ markets and some farm stands from participating as food stamp retail vendors because their facilities did not have the infrastructure to accept the cards. This project aims to introduce an alternative system that provides a service, using market scrip, of accepting the cards at farmers’ markets. The service provides a source of fresh food to the food stamp recipient. It also benefits farmers’ market vendors by increasing food sales.
The scrip system consists of staffed kiosks centrally located within each of the three pilot markets. Food stamp EBT customers may use their EBT cards at the kiosks to purchase market scrip with their food stamp benefits. They may then spend the scrip with any food vendor at the farmers’ market where they purchased scrip.
Of the 150 farmers who sell food at New Hampshire farmers’ markets, 30 farmers from three pilot markets will within three years collectively increase their revenue by accepting food stamp benefits. The goals of this project are consistent with the Northeast SARE outcome statement because they increase the profitability for a diverse set of farmers; and have a positive influence on their communities by increasing the accessibility of healthful food to an additional segment of customers.
Six milestones were proposed in this project. Milestones one through four were scheduled and completed during the first year and are outlined in the 2004 annual report.
Milestones one through four:
Pilot markets were recruited in time for the start of the 2004 growing season through a meeting at the 2004 New Hampshire Farm and Forest Expo. Poor weather limited the attendance at the informational and recruiting workshop; however, three farmers’ markets were recruited from that meeting. An additional two markets were included in the overall project in 2004; however, they were supported by additional funding from the New Hampshire Food Stamp Nutrition Education Program.
Focus groups and informational meetings were held with four of the five markets prior to the start of the 2004 season. The fifth market did not hold a growers’ meeting prior to the market and the project director worked exclusively with the market manager. During June of 2004 the third milestone, training, was conducted and the fourth milestone, conducting focus groups with food stamp participants, was completed. Post season briefings of participating farmers’ market vendors were held immediately following the New Hampshire Farmers’ Market annual meeting in November 2004 completing the fourth milestone of the project.
Milestones five and six:
The fifth milestone was scheduled for fall 2005: a debriefing of the season’s activities with participating market vendors. The project manager requested, from NESARE, and received permission to make a change and extension of this deadline into the spring of 2006. At the end of the 2005 season it became apparent that conducting interviews in winter 2006 will provide the opportunity to obtain more useful and in-depth input from farmers/vendors than waiting until the following year. In addition to obtaining the information needed by the project manager to evaluate the project, it will provide important information for the markets as they plan to offer the service independently at their markets in the 2006 season. The sixth and final milestone is scheduled at the completion of the 2006 market season.
Impacts and Contributions/Outcomes
In 2005, the following three markets participated in the project: the Farmers’ Market Association of Nashua, the Manchester Downtown Farmers’ Market and the Enfield Village Farmers’ Market. Nashua is a small market with 2 vendors. Manchester is the largest market with 18 vendors. Enfield is a mid to large sized market with 15 vendors. The Manchester and Enfield numbers represent the number of food vendors who come to the market during the height of the season. Each market has lower participation during the first and last two weeks of the season. The performance targets projected overall participation by 30 farmers. At the peak of the season up to 35 farmers/vendors participated in the project.
Overall, food stamp EBT sales from the three participating markets were 116% of food stamp EBT sales over the previous year from the same three markets. The Manchester market is the largest of the three and saw the highest increase in EBT sales in 2005 compared with the 2004 season. Nashua and Enfield had modest EBT sales.
The Enfield Village Farmers’ Market is the rural market participating in the project. It is located across the street from a transitional housing building and within a three block walk of low income housing in the center of town. In 2004 the project operated over the course of 13 weeks in Enfield and two customers purchased a total of $24.00 in scrip late in the season. In 2005 the project operated over 17 weeks. Total EBT sales for the season were $75.00 from 3 transactions. Two of the transactions were from the same customer who used the service twice. One customer was from the transitional housing complex and the other, who used the service twice, lived in Vermont and used her Vermont EBT card at the market. On any given week a minimum of 15 vendors are eligible to accept the food stamp market scrip at the Enfield market.
The Enfield market is supported by the Enfield Village Association, a Main Street Program, and advertises the market in local newspapers in the area. When advertising the market, they include information stating that the market accepts both the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons and Food Stamp EBT cards. Two nutrition demo days conducted by University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Nutrition Connections staff and Master Gardener volunteers increased awareness to 35 customers in each of the months that demos were conducted: July and September.
The Nashua market serves a low income population which speaks primarily Spanish and Portuguese. Focus groups with EBT customers in the winter of 2005 indicated that some EBT customers would not approach someone at the market to ask questions about the project. The kiosk operator at the Nashua market is bi-lingual (Spanish/English) and understands Portuguese. By hiring a bi-lingual speaker from the neighborhood, the food stamp population gained an increased awareness and acceptance of using food stamp EBT cards at the market. Customers were comfortable approaching staff with questions.
The market has two vegetable vendors who both participated in the project and also accept the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons. The vendors report that most of their business comes from the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons. Food stamp EBT sales at the Nashua market were lower than the previous year. Nashua had 63% of the sales in 2005 that it had in 2004. In 14 weeks of operation in 2004, the Nashua market had $276.25 in EBT sales. In 15 weeks of operation in 2005, the market had $174.25 in EBT sales. Factors that influenced sales at the Nashua market in 2005 include lack of advertising outside the market and one local free newspaper that posted notice of the market on the wrong day. This was discovered by the market manager late in the season. Several market days experienced severe thunderstorms, and while the market operated during those days, customer turnout was low.
Two nutrition demo days with the UNH Cooperative Extension Nutrition Connections staff and the UNH Master Gardener volunteers brought awareness to an additional 50 customers on the first demo day in August and the 75 on the second demo day in September.
The Manchester Downtown Farmers’ Market is the largest participating market in the project and is located in the largest city in the state. The market location is situated on a street two blocks from the downtown business district on one side and adjacent to a low income neighborhood on the other. There are numerous social service agencies for the low income population within a 4 block radius of the market. The customer base of the market is richly diverse in cultures and socio-economic status. It is a vibrant market with a minimum of 18 food vendors who participate in the EBT project.
EBT sales in 2005 were 130% of those in 2004. In 2004 the Manchester market had $719.00 in EBT sales over 17 weeks of operation. In 2005, they had $938.00 in sales over 17 weeks of operation.
In their paid advertising and on their brochures the market advertises that they accept both the Food Stamp EBT card and Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program coupons. The Manchester market saw more repeat EBT customers in 2005. The repeat customers reported that they save a little of their food stamp benefits each week to shop at the market. In general, the repeat customers live within walking distance of the market and do not otherwise have access to high quality, fresh fruits and vegetables within walking distance of their homes.
Three nutrition demo days were conducted at the Manchester market; one each in July, August and September. On the July date 125 customers participated and 150 on the September date. During the August date, streets near the market were closed off for a road race in Manchester which had a negative impact on the entire market and only 75 customers visited the kiosk for the nutrition demo.
Overall, the project is meeting its performance targets with over 30 farmers participating in the project. Sales outcomes increased from year one to two; however, they are lower than projected. The project proposed using social service networks to promote the service and customers report that they hear about the service from some of the agencies. The Women Infants and Children Supplemental Food Program (WIC), assisted with promotion of the project through their clinics in 2005. There was no budget for direct paid advertising and most customers find out about the service at the market through the signage at the market, market vendors, nutrition demo days and the kiosk staff.