Food aid recipients getting farmers market coupons

ADDISON COUNTY –– 3SquaresVT beneficiaries will now get more bang for their buck at Vermont farmers markets.
At the start of July the Northeastern Organic Farming Association of Vermont (NOFA-VT), the Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the Wholesome Wave Foundation began Harvest Health Coupons, a new initiative designed to encourage beneficiaries of 3SquaresVT, the state’s food stamp program, to purchase food at farmers markets.
Erin Buckwalter, co-director of the Bristol Farmers Market and direct marketing and community food security coordinator for NOFA-VT, explained that the system is simple and works well with the electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards that many 3SquaresVT recipients use.
“They can pick up the coupons at the stand where customers run their EBT or debit card,” she said. “The Harvest Health Coupons match what customers spend on their EBT card up to $10. They’re good for the whole season and they’re only good for the market that you get them at.”
The system provides motives for 3SquaresVT beneficiaries to buy local and eat healthy, Buckwalter said.
“It’s a good way to incentivize benefit users to shop at markets,” she said. “They can go to the market and double their dollars and support local farmers and know where their food is coming from. It helps people who receive benefits receive more healthy food and helps farmers while doing that.”
The coupons basically function as money for the farmers.
“The vendors get the coupons like cash and at end they turn in the coupons to manager and once a month they’re reimbursed,” Buckwalter said.
Buckwalter explained that the program is in line with the Bristol market’s mission of including all community members and supporting local farmers.
“It was kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “It’s really important for us to be able to include everyone at the farmers market.”
Buckwalter said the Bristol market sees about ten EBT users a week.”
Sharon Kerwin, treasurer for the Middlebury Farmer’s Market, said that they often have one to two EBT customers a week.
Kerwin explained that the lack of participation could be due to the perception that the market is pricier than a typical store, even though the program is good for both 3SquaresVT beneficiaries and vendors.
“A lot of customers don’t like to come to the farmers market because they feel like everything’s more expensive here than at the grocery store,” she said. “I don’t know what the answer is.”
Despite the varying turnout at local markets, Buckwalter said that the program has gotten good feedback.
“It’s overwhelmingly positive,” she said. “Some people come and already know about it, other people use their EBT card and as they swipe it I tell them about Harvest Health Coupons. They say, oh my gosh, this is so cool, I’m definitely coming back.”

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