SNAP Update: Redemptions at Farmers Markets Continue to Increase

By: Dan Blaustein Rejto       Posted On: May 21, 2015

Farmers markets have seen exponential growth over the past decade. Not only did the number of markets rise in 2014 – by over 100 to a total of 8,268 – but so did the use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP, formerly food stamps) at farmers markets across the country.

Note: All years refer to fiscal years i.e. 2014 refers to the 12 months from October 2013 to September 2014.

Number of Farmers Markets in USDA Directory Chart

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service

As of September 2014, there were 2,866 SNAP authorized farmers markets and 2,309 SNAP authorized direct marketing farmers, many of whom sell at farmers markets. USDA recently announced that over 1,000 new farmers markets and direct marketing farmers became SNAP-authorized between October 2014 and June 2015, bringing the total number of authorized retailers to approximately 6,400. This is more than five times the amount of markets and direct marketing farmers authorized in 2009.

This data indicates that efforts to increase low-income access to farm direct food are working. Over each of the past two years, the number of SNAP authorized farmers markets and direct marketing farmers grew by 27%. Each new authorization represents an opportunity for more Americans to access fresh, local foods.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service

Following this trend, SNAP spending with farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers grew to $18.8 million in 2014. This is more than four times the amount of SNAP benefits redeemed at markets in 2009.

Source: United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service. Correction: We previously published that 2013 SNAP Redemption was $21 million. USDA recalculated and corrected this amount to $17.5 million because several retailers were incorrectly labeled.

Although these are tremendous increases, SNAP redemptions at markets remain a tiny percentage of total SNAP benefit spending, which was nearly $70 billion in 2014. Farmers markets saw .027% of overall SNAP spending in 2014 — a 17% increase in the share from 2013. Over the past five years, it has more than doubled (growing by 131%).

Sources: United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service; and FMC & CFSC’s “Real Food, Real Choice”

The transition from paper food stamps to EBT cards, which are used similar to debit cards, created a challenge for markets and SNAP participants.  The paper vouchers were inexpensive to accept; today, markets need costly equipment and monthly services to accept EBT. The long decline of SNAP redemption at markets from 2001 through 2005 was due to the technical and financial barriers markets faced trying to accept the new EBT cards.

Fortunately, Congress and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) began providing support for markets to acquire and operate EBT equipment. This started with the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP), which began receiving substantial funding in the 2008 Farm Bill. It continues today through annual funding from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).

Despite this support, the expense remains a major barrier for farmers markets and farmers interested in accepting the EBT cards that replaced paper food stamps. Check back soon for future blog posts on the remaining challenges or read our archived posts on SNAP at farmers markets here.

Other trends noted in the recent SNAP data published by USDA in the “SNAP Retailer Management 2014 Annual Report” are that:

  • “More SNAP benefits were redeemed at farmers markets and direct marketing farmers in fiscal year 2014 during August than any other month of the year.
  • Of the 3,232, counties in the U.S., 1,577 (49 percent) have at least one SNAP authorized farmers market or farmer; this is an increase of 8 percent over 2013.
  • 362,477 SNAP households made at least one purchase at a farmers market in fiscal year 2014. Households shopping at farmers’ markets spent $52.38 on average over the course of the year…
  • 54 percent of the 362,477 households that shopped at a farmers market or direct marketing farmer made one purchase; another 18 percent made two purchases; and 28 percent made three or more purchases within the year. These percentages have remained relatively unchanged over the last four fiscal years.
  • 99 percent of all SNAP transactions at a market or direct marketing farmer were electronic (either swipe or key entry), and the remaining 1 percent were paper voucher authorizations.”

Notes on data updates and calculations:

  • USDA FNS recalculated the 2013 data because several retailers were incorrectly labeled. This reduced total SNAP redemptions from $21 million to $17.5 million and increased the number of authorized markets and direct-marketing farmers to 4,071.
  • The 2010 data for the number of SNAP-authorized farmers markets and direct marketing farmers we have posted in the past was 1,040. The number published by USDA is 1,611. We are looking into the discrepancy.
  • With questions arising about the distinction between farmers market organizations and individual farmers, USDA FNS created a new store type in their system, Direct Marketing Farmer (DF), in August 2010. Numbers before and after this date may not be accurately compared.
  • Except where noted, all data mentioned was provided from USDA Agricultural Marketing Service and Food and Nutrition Service Benefits Redemption Division.