Electronic Benefit Transfer payment at farmers markets

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is the electronic payment system of debit cards that the government uses to issue Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits to eligible recipients. SNAP benefits used to be paper-based and easy to redeem at farmers markets; when the EBT mandate passed, benefit redemption at farmers markets declined dramatically. Farmers markets enabled to accept EBT re-establish an opportunity for low income shoppers to access fresh, locally grown foods. EBT is in pilot stages for other government nutrition assistance programs (USDA-FNS EBT).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased access to fruits & vegetables

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

Evidence of Effectiveness

Enabling Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payment at farmers markets is a suggested strategy to increase access to fruits and vegetables (CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011, USDA-Karakus 2014, ). Multiple surveys and interviews describe the lack of EBT payment at farmers markets as a barrier to fruit and vegetable consumption for low income consumers and suggest that accepting EBT at farmers markets would increase access to fruits and vegetables for card holders (Jilcott Pitts 2015, IATP-EBT 2010Hood 2012). Early research associates EBT access with increased fruit and vegetable purchases (Breck 2017) and consumption (). A New York City-based study of Green Carts, associates higher spending on fruits and vegetables at carts that accept EBT than at cash only carts (Breck 2015). However, additional evidence is needed to demonstrate the effects of EBT acceptance at farmers markets.

Cost of operating EBT varies depending on whether markets accept EBT only or EBT and debit or credit cards; costs also vary for equipment rental or purchases, transaction fees, monthly service plans, staff time, advertising expenses, and supplies (FMC-SNAP EBT). A pilot study associated individual wireless EBT terminals for each farmers market vendor with a 38% sales increase over the sales with one centrally located terminal per farmers market; however, this increase did not offset the cost of having a terminal for each vendor (). In some cases, farmers markets accepting EBT have increased total revenue (, ), although individual vendor sales vary ().

Subsidies to reduce the cost of EBT terminals as well as marketing and outreach to low income shoppers may be needed to increase both farmers market and consumer participation (Cole 2013). Farmers market managers may be more willing to adopt EBT systems when given an opportunity to try before purchasing (). Community partnerships can support EBT at farmers markets by obtaining funding, developing operating procedures, and promoting availability ().

Combining EBT access and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Education (SNAP-Ed) programs may increase the overall amount of produce purchased at the market, and help participants select, store, and prepare larger amounts of local produce (). 

Impact on Disparities

Likely to decrease disparities

Implementation Examples

As of November 2017, 33% of the 8,700 farmers markets in the US accepted Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (USDA-Farmers market directory) and New Mexico, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington DC had the highest percentage of farmers markets accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) (CDC-State indicator 2013). Some municipalities require farmers markets to accept EBT (e.g., San Francisco) (SF Farmers Markets) and several state legislatures have enacted legislation to support using EBT machines at farmers markets (e.g., California, Indiana, and Massachusetts) (NCSL-Farmers marketHood 2012). Many farmers markets that accept EBT report increases in SNAP benefit redemption, including  Philadelphia Food Trust farmers’ markets (Philadelphia Food Trust) and NYC Greenmarket program (NYC Greenmarket). 

In 2013, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) partnered with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs to establish MarketLink, a program to help markets and farmers acquire equipment and navigate the process to accept EBT. As of 2017, MarketLink has helped over 3,000 farmers and markets accept EBT (NAFMNP-MarketLink).

Implementation Resources

USDA-FNS EBT - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Supplemental nutrition assistance program: Learn how you can accept SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets.

Baesler 2010 - Baesler A. How to implement SNAP and EBT into your farmers' market: information and recommendations for farmers' markets organizations and direct marketing farmers/producers. Saint Paul: Minnesota Department of Agriculture; 2010.

CDC DNPAO-Data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool.

PolicyLink-HFAP map - PolicyLink, The Reinvestment Fund (TRF), The Food Trust. Healthy food access portal (HFAP): Research your community interactive map for healthy food access.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC), Center for Global Policy Solutions, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. 2014.

FMC-SNAP guide - Farmers Market Coalition (FMC). SNAP guide for farmers markets.

NAFMNP-MarketLink - National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP). MarketLink.

SRTSNP-Safe routes to healthy foods - Safe Routes to School National Partnership (SRTSNP). Healthy communities: Safe routes to healthy foods.

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

IOM-Government obesity prevention 2009* - Institute of Medicine (IOM), National Research Council (NRC), Committee on Childhood Obesity Prevention Actions for Local Governments. Local government actions to prevent childhood obesity. (Parker L, Burns AC, Sanchez E, eds.). Washington, DC: National Academies Press; 2009.

Young 2011* - Young C, Karpyn A, Uy N, Wich K, Glyn J. Farmers’ markets in low income communities: Impact of community environment, food programs and public policy. Community Development. 2011;42(2):208-20.

Jones 2011* - Jones P, Bhatia R. Supporting equitable food systems through food assistance at farmers’ markets. American Journal of Public Health. 2011;101(5):781-3.

Guthman 2006* - Guthman J, Morris AW, Allen P. Squaring farm security and food security in two types of alternative food institutions. Rural Sociology. 2006;71(4):662-84.

IATP-EBT 2010 - Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP). EBT at farmers markets: Initial insights from national research and local dialogue. Minneapolis: Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP); 2010.

CDC-Fruits and vegetables 2011 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Strategies to prevent obesity and other chronic diseases: The CDC guide to strategies to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Atlanta: US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2011.

Buttenheim 2012* - Buttenheim AM, Havassy J, Fang M, Glyn J, Karpyn AE. Increasing supplemental nutrition assistance program/electronic benefits transfer sales at farmers’ markets with vendor-operated wireless point-of-sale terminals. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2012;112(5):636–41.

Leone 2012* - Leone LA, Beth D, Ickes SB, et al. Attitudes toward fruit and vegetable consumption and farmers' market usage among low-income North Carolinians. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2012;7(1):64-76.

Hood 2012 - Hood C, Martinez-Donate A, Meinen A. Promoting healthy food consumption: A review of state-level policies to improve access to fruits and vegetables. Wisconsin Medical Journal. 2012;111(6):283-8.

Robles 2017* - Robles B, Montes CE, Nobari TZ, Wang MC, Kuo T. Dietary behaviors among public health center clients with electronic benefit transfer access at farmers’ markets. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2017;117(1):58-68.

Hasin 2016* - Hasin A, Smith S. The diffusion of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) technology at Illinois farmers’ markets: Measuring the perceived attributes of the innovation. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2016;11(3):354-369.

Roubal 2016* - Roubal A, Morales A, Timberlake K, Martinez-Donate A. Examining barriers to implementation of electronic benefit transfer (EBT) in farmers markets: Perspectives from market managers. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2016;6(3):141-161.

Savoie-Roskos 2016* - Savoie-Roskos M, LeBlanc H, Coombs C, et al. Effectiveness of a SNAP-Ed nutrition education booth at farmers markets. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2016;7(1):11-19.

Cole 2013 - Cole K, McNees M, Kinney K, Fisher K, Krieger JW. Increasing access to farmers markets for beneficiaries of nutrition assistance: Evaluation of the Farmers Market Access Project. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2013;10:130121.

Breck 2015 - Breck A, Kiszko KM, Abrams C, Elbel B. Spending at mobile fruit and vegetable carts and using SNAP benefits to pay, Bronx, New York, 2013 and 2014. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2015;12:140542.

Breck 2017 - Breck A, Kiszko K, Martinez O, Abrams C, Elbel B. Could EBT machines increase fruit and vegetable purchases at New York City green carts? Preventing Chronic Disease. 2017;14:170104.

Hasin 2014* - Hasin A, Smith S, Stieren P. Illinois farmers markets using EBT: Impacts on SNAP redemption and market sales. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2014;5(1):179-188.

Krokowski 2014* - Krokowski K. Evaluating the economic and nutritional benefits and program challenges of EBT programs at farmers’ markets. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2014;4(2):37-44.

USDA-Karakus 2014 - Karakus M, Milfort R, MacAllum K, Hao H. Nutrition assistance in farmers markets: Understanding the shopping patterns of SNAP participants. Alexandria, VA: US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Office of Policy Support; 2014.

Holland 2015* - Holland JH, Thompson OM. Place-based economic development: Examining the relationship between the US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and farmers markets in Mississippi. Community Development. 2015;46(1):67-77.

FMC-SNAP EBT - Farmers Market Coalition (FMC). SNAP guide for farmers markets: Estimated costs.

Jilcott Pitts 2015 - Jilcott Pitts SB, Wu Q, Demarest CL, et al. Farmers’ market shopping and dietary behaviours among Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program participants. Public Health Nutrition. 2015;18(13):2407-2414.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

SF Farmers Markets - City and County of San Francisco. Recreation and park - farmers’ markets. Amendment of the Whole Ordinance No. 29-07: File No. 061112.

Philadelphia Food Trust - The Food Trust. Farmers’ market program: Operating 30-plus farmer’s markets in the Philadelphia region.

NYC Greenmarket - Grow NYC. EBT and more at Greenmarket.

USDA-Farmers market directory - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Local food directories: National farmers market directory.

NCSL-Farmers market - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Farmers’ market.

CDC-State indicator 2013 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). State indicator report on fruits and vegetables, 2013. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), US Department of Health and Human Services (US DHHS); 2013.

Hood 2012 - Hood C, Martinez-Donate A, Meinen A. Promoting healthy food consumption: A review of state-level policies to improve access to fruits and vegetables. Wisconsin Medical Journal. 2012;111(6):283-8.

NAFMNP-MarketLink - National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP). MarketLink.

Date Last Updated

Dec 11, 2017