SNAP Guide for Farmers Markets
Over the years, FMC has been collecting guides, reports, case studies and ideas about accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets. On this page, we’ve tried to pull together some of our favorite resources in an easy to access package. We’ll continue to add and edit this page as new information becomes available, and as markets continue to find innovative ways to increase access to their fresh, local foods.
This guide is possible thanks to the contributions of several organizations and individuals, including Karen Kinney and Colleen Donovan, authors of The “A to Z” of EBT, Credit, Debit Cards in Washington State, Stacy Miller, Suzanne Briggs, and Wholesome Wave, in addition to the authors of many useful resources referenced throughout this document.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), and serves as the nation’s largest domestic hunger safety net. FNS works with state-level agencies and partners to inform the public of nutrition assistance opportunities, sign up beneficiaries, and ensure program integrity. To receive SNAP benefits, eligible individuals must apply through their states.
Each state administers SNAP in the department of its own choosing. SNAP transactions use electronic benefit transfer (EBT) technology, on a swipe card similar to your average debit card. States often call their SNAP cards by different names. For example, in Florida, SNAP is administered by the Department of Children and Families, using their Access card, while in Michigan, it’s administered by the Department of Human Services, using their Bridge card. To find the contact person and agency for SNAP in your state, see the list of State by State Resource List.
For information on the history of SNAP at farmers markets over the years, visit FMC’s SNAP advocacy page. For state-by-state data on SNAP sales and SNAP-authorized markets, download FMC’s SNAP data Excel workbook.
It’s important to understand the community surrounding your market in order to serve your shoppers well. Take the time to do preliminary research into local demographics to ensure that your farmers market is truly accessible to the neighborhood.
The statewide Michigan Farmers Market Association released an updated Farmers Market Feasibility Assessment Guide in 2014, which provides prospective farmers market operators with a number of tools to assist in gathering demographic information, SNAP and other statistics related to hunger, and guidance on conducting a comprehensive community assessment. Even if your market already exists, the resource is a helpful means of collecting rich and useful data while determining community needs.
Comprehensive data collection is increasingly important as farmers markets are tasked with demonstrating their value to communities, government agencies, and funders. Start with basic data collection for your SNAP program—for example, tracking SNAP transactions or customers—and determine your capacity for more robust collection like end-of-year customer and farmer surveys.
Retailers accepting SNAP benefits must be authorized by FNS, who will provide a SNAP License with an FNS number. This permit number is then programmed into the wireless point of sale (POS) terminal or in the SNAP MobileMarket+ app. There is no charge for the SNAP License. Farmers and farmers markets apply for a SNAP License online at www.fns.usda.gov/ebt/learn-about-snap-benefits-farmers-markets. You can also call USDA FNS’s customer service at (877) 823-4369.
Applying is a three step application process:
- Get a USDA account;
- Fill out an application online; and
- Mail your supporting documentation to FNS to complete your file.
To complete the application, you’ll need the following:
- Photo identification and Social Security card for all owners, partners, and corporate officers, unless the market is owned by a government agency. In cases where a farmers market is owned by a nonprofit cooperative, the cooperative may designate a single “responsible official,” and provide such information solely for that person.
- USDA FNS Completed Certification and Signature Statement, which is received after submitting the application online.;
- Any business licenses you may have for doing business at your location, under the current owner’s name (this is optional for farmers markets located on temporary sites).
If you live in a Community Property State, you’ll also have to include Social Security Number and ID of the spouse of the person whose name is used on the SNAP application. Community Property states are currently: Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin. Find out more about Community Property states here.
If the contact person(s) on the original SNAP application change, FNS needs to be notified and given updated information. It’s a good idea to pick a contact who anticipates being around for a long time to minimize the need to update the market’s information.
Once your market is approved, you’ll receive your FNS permit and a packet of training materials. The permit is ongoing and doesn’t expire; however, it may be terminated if there is no activity on it for 12 months. In such cases, the market would have to re‐apply. If a market is owner-operated and ownership changes hands, a new FNS permit will be required for the new owners.
Tokens are a form of market currency, also known as scrip, that is used with a centrally-located POS terminal program. Tokens allow customers to use EBT benefits as well as debit or credit cards and all vendors in the market have the opportunity for increase sales.
Here is how it works: a customer purchases market tokens from the central EBT location (often at the market’s information table) using their debit, credit, or EBT card, and then uses the tokens to purchase products from participating vendors. The vendors exchange the tokens back to the market according to an agreed-upon reimbursement schedule. The market keeps track of token sales versus token redemption to ensure that the system is functioning properly. A market can also use paper scrip instead of tokens, which tends to be less bulky, but also more easily counterfeited. For a list of places that sell paper scrip or tokens and for even more information, take a look at SNAP at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook.
An alternative to tokens or scrip is a receipt system. With this system, the cardholder brings the produce she wishes to purchase to the vendor’s checkout. The vendor totals the sale and writes a receipt which includes the the vendor name, amount purchased, and items purchased. The vendor holds the shoppers purchase while the customer then brings this slip to the central POS market site. Here her card is swiped and she receives a sales receipt from a market staffperson, who signs the vendor receipt to show proof of purchase. The customer returns the vendor receipt to the vendor in exchange for her food purchase. At the end of the market, the vendor tuns in all shopper receipts and the market reimburses the vendor according to an agreed-upon payment schedule.
The advantages of the receipt system are that a) it has an extensive paper trail; b) it’s cost-efficient; c) there is nothing of value, like tokens, to be lost; and d) purchases can be precisely calculated down to the last penny (token systems usually are just use dollar tokens). On the other hand, tokens are much more shopper friendly and the debit/credit tokens have the advantage of multiple uses: to purchase products now or later, give as gifts, and brand the market with the market logo, to name a few. In addition, tokens may seem familiar and easy for customers to understand, attracting debit/credit customers as well.
Here are more great resources for using tokens at your market:
- For ways to communicate about your token system, look at Portland Farmers Market’sTokens 101 for Shoppers.
- For token system logistics, see Market Umbrella’s YouTube Video, FAQ Token Systems Marketshare.
Other Resources from the FMC Resource Library:
- The Food Trust’s A Survey of Farmers Market SNAP Incentive Programs: Lessons, Challenges, and Trends
- Darlene Wolnik’s Vermont Market Currency Feasibility Report
- Project for Public Spaces SNAP/EBT at Your Farmers Market: Seven Steps to Success
Farmers markets partner with a wide range of groups, including city, State, and Federal government agencies; “buy local” campaign organizers; food pantries; hospitals and clinics; faith-based organizations; libraries, and senior centers. These partners and others can help with SNAP EBT outreach in many ways—they can hand out flyers about the market SNAP EBT program, host cooking demonstrations and nutrition education events at the market, and encourage their clients to attend the farmers market. Partners can promote SNAP at farmers markets at health fairs, school events, and community festivals to reach targeted audiences. They can provide signage and flyers about farmers markets’ SNAP participation to local SNAP and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) offices, senior centers, hospitals, clinics, food pantries, schools, churches, and community centers to effectively notify the public that SNAP is available at the farmers market. Press releases and local calendar listings are also effective (and usually free) marketing tools. Special events and outreach initiatives produced with partner support can draw media and other community attention.
Partnering with organizations who have an interest in your mission is imperative to expanding outreach efforts and advocating for your needs as a market. Make sure to engage community stakeholders as well, who can help guide the creation of your SNAP program and provide general market support. As an example of a statewide partnership in action, the Washington State Farmers Market Associations’ Food Access Partnership includes an impressive array of organizations, agencies, and companies. Additional Resources with partnership ideas:
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Attracting SNAP Customers to Your Farmers Market
- USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Putting Healthy Food Within Reach, A State Outreach Toolkit
- USDA’s Agricultural Market Service and the Southeastern Pennsylvania Resource Conservation and Development Council’s Connecting Local Farmers with Farmers Market Nutrition Program Participants
App: Shorthand for “mobile application” which is designed and downloaded for smart phones, tablets, or other internet-ready mobile devices.
Early termination fee: A fee charged by merchant service providers when a contract is ended prematurely. Early termination fees vary by provider.
EBT: Electronic Benefit Transfer. The electronic system that allows SNAP benefit recipients to swipe a card to use their federal benefits, rather than paper vouchers.
FMC: Farmers Market Coalition
FNS: Food and Nutrition Service is the agency within the United States Department of Agriculture that administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, (FMNP) and WIC Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Cash Value Voucher (CVV) Program, among others.
Incentive Program: An incentive program offers SNAP (or any other nutrition benefit) recipients a financial incentive for redeeming their benefits on fruits and vegetables at the farmers market.
Interchange Fees: A type of transaction fee that is paid by retailers to card issuers (the banks that sponsor the credit or debit cards). The rates are set by the card associations (e.g. MasterCard or Visa) and are based on a combination of factors including amount of the transaction, total volume, and type of business. Issuers who collect the fees then pay the fees to the card associations.
For every debit/credit card that exists, there is an associated pre-set rate that the merchant service provider pays to the issuing bank. The interchange rate has two components: a percentage fee of the volume of the sale, and a per-transaction fee. Typically, the interchange rate will be written in this format: 2.00% + $0.10.
The Agricultural Act of 2014, prohibits interchange fees from applying to SNAP EBT transactions, however debit and credit transactions remain subject to interchange fees.
IRS: Internal Revenue Service. The revenue service of the United States federal government. The government agency is a bureau of the Department of the Treasury.
PCI Compliance: The Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard (PCI DSS, commonly referred to as simply PCI) compliance is designed to protect businesses and their customers against payment card theft and fraud. If your retailer accepts, stores, or transmits card data, PCI DSS compliance certification is required by card brands such as Visa, MasterCard and Discover.
Many service providers charge a PCI compliance fee and provides compliance support. For example, a PCI fee may be something in the area of $70-$120 a year, or about $6-$10 a month for compliance support involving scans and assistance completing compliance questionnaires once per year. The PCI fee may be greater or less depending on the level of support the provided. If the annual PCI compliance survey isn’t completed by the retailer annually, the service provider will often charge a non-compliance fee.
POS: A Point of Sale device is the equipment used to process an EBT, credit or debit transaction. Retail outlets typically use a wired POS, while most farmers markets require a wireless version.
Scrip: In cases where individual farmers do not have a SNAP license to accept SNAP benefits, a farmers market can obtain a SNAP license and allow eligible farmers in the market to accept SNAP benefits, by issuing scrip and using a centralized point of sale device to process transactions. There are two basic scrip systems:
- Paper scrip or tokens: Market staff swipe the EBT card at a centrally located POS device, debiting the amount requested by the customer in exchange for paper scrip or tokens, which can then be used to shop at all eligible food booths in the market. Farmers trade the scrip/tokens with market staff for payment.
- Receipts: A customer sets aside selected food at a farmer’s booth, and the farmer gives the customer a list of the selected items. The customer then takes the list to the centralized POS device, uses an EBT card to pay for the items, and receives a receipt. The customer then gives the farmer the receipt in exchange for the selected food. Market staff keeps track of the receipts and reimburse farmers based on the day’s purchases.
Seasonal fee: A fee that a merchant service provider may charge if services is are only used for a portion of the year. Paying the seasonal fee allows a market to avoid paying monthly services fees during months when the market is not operating. (As opposed to paying for an early termination fee, which is usually higher).
SNAP: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. A federal program that provides nutrition benefits to low-income individuals and families that are used at stores to purchase food. The program is administered by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) through its nationwide network of FNS field offices.
Third Party Processor, Merchant Service Provider, Service Provider: The company that offers payment processing services (for example MarketLink works with the merchant service provider, Worldpay).
Tokens: Tokens are used as currency in farmers markets that offer SNAP EBT, credit or debit transactions through a centralized point of sale (POS) device. Market staff swipe the EBT, credit or debit card at the POS device, debiting the amount requested by the customer in exchange for tokens, which can then be used to shop at all eligible food booths in the market. Farmers trade the tokens with market staff for payment. Tokens serve as a scrip system.
Transaction Fees: Fees charged for every transaction through electronic transfers (debit, credit, EBT). These fees are paid to, and determined by the merchant service provider. Debit, credit and EBT transactions are subject to transaction fees. Interchange fees are a type of transaction fee that is paid by the merchant service provider to the issuing bank, and are set by the industry (Visa/Mastercard/ Discover). EBT transactions are excluded from Interchange fees. See Interchange fees for more info.
USDA: United States Department of Agriculture
USDA FNS: United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service, the agency that administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, (FMNP) and WIC Fresh Fruit & Vegetable Cash Value Voucher (CVV) Program, among others.
More and more resources are being developed to help aid farmers markets looking to expand access through federal nutrition programs like SNAP. While the guide on this web site represents the most pertinent details, it is not meant to be exhaustive. An essential first step is to read more about the process of becoming a SNAP-authorized retailer. FMC recommends reading SNAP at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook, a publication co-authored by USDA and the Project for Public Spaces, as well as a complementary guide, SNAP/EBT at Your Farmers Market: Seven Steps to Success. Below are some additional sources of guidance and best practices.
- Accepting Bridge Cards at Michigan Farmers Markets (www.mifma.org)
- Ecology Center’s Farmers Market EBT Project (www.ecologycenter.org)
- Montana Farmers Market EBT Manual (https://attra.ncat.org)
- NY Farmers Market EBT/Food Stamp/SNAP Program (www.snaptomarket.com)
- Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets
- Project for Public Space’s SNAP/EBT at your Farmers Market: Seven Steps to Success
- USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How‐To Handbook (June 2010)
- A Guide to SNAP/EBT Farmers Market Programs, Steps, Best Practices and Resources(January 2013)
- Farmers Markets For All: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities for Increasing Fresh Food Access by Connecting Low-Income Communities with Farmers Markets (October 2012)
- Farmers Markets For All: Exploring Barriers and Opportunities for Increasing Fresh Food Access by Connecting Low-Incs foome Communities with Farmers Markets (October 2012)
- Washington State Farmers Market Management Toolkit (Chapter 7: Accepting “Multiple Currencies” at your Farmers Market) (2012)