Selling produce and other farm products at roadside stands or farmers markets usually requires cash. But the new U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) MarketLink™ program would allow shoppers to swipe plastic for farm-fresh foods.
Through MarketLink, eligible farmers would be given equipment to accept credit, debit and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) electronic benefit transfers.
“The purpose of the program is to increase SNAP redemption and participation at farmers markets,” said Alabama Farmers Market Authority Director Don Wambles. “My department is responsible for providing a full spectrum of technical assistance. We will be there for our farmers through this entire process.”
By signing a three-year contract, farmers would receive a free iPhone 5, card reader and wireless printer, plus a two-year wireless data plan and free merchant processing for a year.
Elmore County farmer Justin Barrett was accepted to the program after filing an application at a sign-up day event at the Alabama Department of Agriculture and Industries in March. More than 65 farmers attended the meeting.
“I think this is a good thing all the way around,” Barrett said. He is partnering with Montgomery County farmer Garrett Henry to market locally-grown, farm-raised beef through a new company, River Region Beef LLC. “This will make the process easier, smoother and cheaper for farmers.”
Chilton County farmer Jimmie Harrison also attended the meeting to learn how he could use the service at his farm.
“We already take the Farmers Market Nutrition Program coupons, but we’re interested in accepting credit, debit and SNAP,” Harrison said. “People don’t use cash anymore. I think this would be beneficial for our business.”
According to a report from Washington State University, Harrison is right. Researchers found that at farmers markets accepting electronic forms of payment, only 6 percent of sales were in cash. The report also stated the average electronic sale was $34.57.
Currently, farmers who already accept electronic SNAP benefits are not eligible for the MarketLink program. However, officials said they are working to find a way to include those farmers, like Earl Snell of Dale County who sells produce off-the-farm and at farmers markets.
“Accepting SNAP at our farm has really improved our business,” Snell said. “But we’d like to get a mobile unit to take to market. This program is a 100-percent winner.”
State government officials echoed those sentiments, saying MarketLink is a win-win for farmers and consumers. However, the main goal is increasing healthy options available to SNAP recipients.
“This is very important because we want to promote nutritious food for all our recipients,” said Brandon Hardin, Alabama’s SNAP director. “The partnership between USDA, Farmers Market Authority and SNAP is a great opportunity to increase access, especially in rural communities, to healthy fruits and vegetables.”
For more about the application process, visit MarketLink.org. The MarketLink program is a partnership with the USDA Food and Nutrition Service; the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs; the NOVO DIA Group, Mobile Market+™; and WorldPay™.