The federal government has discontinued a contract with Novo Dia Group, the company whose smartphone app allows local farmers markets to process SNAP benefits -- or food stamps.
Starting August 1st, 1,700 farmers markets will need another solution. Without the smartphone app, markets will need to invest in expensive Electronic Benefits Transfer terminals, manage cumbersome paper vouchers, or stop selling fresh produce to families on public assistance.
In Durham, the farmers market will buy an EBT terminal for about $1,000 and pay a monthly fee to operate it, according to Market Manager Mary Yost.
“That's definitely going to be a large expense for the market, but it's a program that we value and it's very important to us to be able to offer that to our community,” Yost said. “So we're willing to invest in that equipment moving forward.”
Yost said many smaller markets will not be able to afford the EBT terminal, so she encourages public partnerships to help support the shift. She said she also hopes the federal government will allow a long-term affordable solution to allow farmers markets to better serve customers in need.
For many low-income consumers, farmers markets may be the only marketplace where they can access local fresh produce, according to Lisa Mish, program coordinator for RAFI, a Pittsboro-based farmer advocacy nonprofit.
“If they're no longer able to use those SNAP benefits at the farmers market, they lose a really valuable accessible option to purchase those healthy foods,” Mish said. “And they might have to replace those dollar with something that's not as nutritious.”
Mish added that local farmers depend on customers of all income levels to stay in business.
“While I hope we find a short-term solution to these issues, I also hope that it starts a conversation about longer-term solutions so, you know, three years down the line, we don't run into the same issue,” she said.