Congress Takes Leadership on Farmers Market SNAP Expansion

      Posted On: October 19, 2011

By Natalie Roper, FMC Research & Education Intern

In the last several months, the Farmers Market Coalition has been among other organizations in working with leaders in both Senate and House Agriculture Committees to support the growth and expansion of farmers markets nationally.  After months of working with congressional staffers, some of these efforts are coming to fruition in exciting ways.

On September 21, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York introduced the Expanding Access to Farmers Market Act, (S. 1593) which would amend the Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 to require State electronic benefit transfer (EBT) contracts to treat wireless program retail food stores in the same manner as brick-and-mortar retail food stores. This passage of this bill would ensure that wireless Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) terminals will be available at farmers markets and other non-traditional retailers (eg. mobile green carts, produce delivery programs, farm subscription programs) to become authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. With 45 million Americans now using SNAP benefits, it is vital that farmers markets are able to sell them fresh food for a healthier lifestyle and bring these additional customers to the local farmers.

According the the letter Senator Gillibrand is sending to her colleagues requesting co-sponsorship, “The Expanding Access to Farmers Markets Act would provide farmers markets and other non-traditional retailers with SNAP-ready mobile technology that would make it easier for SNAP participants to take advantage of the healthy, fresh food available at farmers markets, green carts and produce stands.”

Acknowledging that EBT requires trained staff, the bill also outlines the importance of potential for markets to enter into partnerships with statewide nonprofit organizations to aide in the training and administration in wireless EBT technology.

How can you help ensure the passage of this important legislation to level the playing field for farms and farmers markets? We urge you to contact your Senator to ask for their support, reminding them that your community depends on wireless EBT terminals to provide fresh, healthy food to families in need, and this bill is a win-win for low-income Americans and limited resource specialty crop farmers. To learn more about the Expanding Access to Farmers Market Act, contact Brook Gesser at

But that’s not all. Later this month, Representative Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and other Representatives will introduce a bill to advance the development of local and regional farm and food systems.  An identical bill will be introduced in the Senate at the same time, motivated by the need to boost farm income and stimulate job creation and economic development while meeting public health and nutrition goals.

The local and regional farm and food system bill will be comprehensive, including revisions to 10 of the 16 titles of the Farm Bill.  The ultimate goal for the bill will be to have its provisions included next year when Congress writes the 2012 Farm Bill.

Among several topic areas covered by the bill will be an emphasis on farmers markets—both a continuation and increase in funding for the FMPP (including funds to support technical assistance and organizational capacity building to strengthen statewide, regional, and national professional development networks); support for the development of SNAP smartphone apps; and encouragement for state agencies to use farmers markets and other direct marketing outlets as a venues for nutrition education activities.

Rep. Pingree plans to introduce the local and regional farm and food systems bill in late October.  For further information, or how to get your congressperson to endorse the bill, please contact Claire Benjamin at (202) 225-6116 or

FMC owes a profound thanks to the staff in Chellie Pingree and Kirsten Gillibrand’s offices, as well as friends in the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, Community Food Security Coalition, Fair Food Network, and Wholesome Wave for hearing, understanding, and responding to the barriers faced by farmers markets in their efforts to become more accessible to all members of their communities.  FMC members should stay tuned for future updates and opportunities to support these forward-thinking policies!