Electronic Benefit Transfer payment at farmers markets

Evidence Rating  
Evidence rating: Expert Opinion

Strategies with this rating are recommended by credible, impartial experts but have limited research documenting effects; further research, often with stronger designs, is needed to confirm effects.

Disparity Rating  
Disparity rating: Potential to decrease disparities

Strategies with this rating have the potential to decrease or eliminate disparities between subgroups. Rating is suggested by evidence, expert opinion or strategy design.

Health Factors  
Decision Makers
Date last updated

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. The ability for farmers markets to accept EBT re-establishes an opportunity for shoppers with low incomes to access fresh, locally grown foods1.

What could this strategy improve?

Expected Benefits

Our evidence rating is based on the likelihood of achieving these outcomes:

  • Increased access to fruits & vegetables

Potential Benefits

Our evidence rating is not based on these outcomes, but these benefits may also be possible:

  • Increased fruit & vegetable consumption

  • Reduced emissions

What does the research say about effectiveness?

Enabling Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payment at farmers markets is a suggested strategy to increase access to fruits and vegetables2, 3, 4, 5. Multiple surveys and interviews suggest that accepting EBT at farmers markets would remove a barrier to fruit and vegetable consumption for consumers with low incomes and increase access to fruits and vegetables for card holders6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Available survey data also suggest that the introduction of EBT card readers is associated with increased use of farmers markets among SNAP participants13. Early research associates EBT access with increased fruit and vegetable purchases14 and consumption15, 16. 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 carts17. 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 supplies18. 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 vendor19. In some cases, farmers markets accepting EBT have increased total revenue20, 21, although individual vendor sales vary21.

Instruction and technical assistance are often needed to help farmers become authorized SNAP retailers and implement the EBT payment processing system22, 23. Subsidies to reduce the cost of EBT terminals as well as marketing and outreach to individuals who are eligible for SNAP may be needed to increase both farmers market and consumer participation24. Farmers market managers may be more willing to adopt EBT systems when given an opportunity to try before purchasing25. Farmers markets with successful food assistance programs have external resources, strong market leadership, and support from formal and informal networks that help address the heavy administrative burden associated with meeting requirements for EBT acceptance and other food assistance programs26. Community partnerships can support EBT at farmers markets by obtaining funding, developing operating procedures, and promoting availability27. One Hawaii-based study suggests that higher levels of community engagement and informal marketing are associated with increased EBT usage28.

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 produce29. Access to EBT payment at farmers markets may support local, seasonal eating among participants and more cooking from scratch, which may reduce emissions from fossil fuels used to produce, process, and transport food30, 31, 32. Farmers market shopping with EBT payment may also reduce the energy intensity of an individual’s diet if more plant-based foods are consumed in place of animal products30.

How could this strategy advance health equity? This strategy is rated potential to decrease disparities: suggested by intervention design.

Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) payment at farmers markets is designed to decrease disparities in access to fruit and vegetables between people with low incomes who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and those with higher incomes. Disparities in access to food – especially affordable, healthy foods and fresh produce – exist between communities in the U.S. by race and income40, 41. EBT at farmers markets has the potential to decrease those disparities among SNAP-eligible program participants by increasing options for SNAP benefit redemption. However, because individuals must apply for SNAP, some eligible individuals do not receive assistance42.

Nationwide, many farmers markets that accept EBT benefits have been started and sustained in communities with low incomes to improve access to fresh, healthy foods, despite the challenges involved42. However, other farmers markets are not accessible or inclusive for SNAP recipients, leading to additional redemption barriers. Overall, farmers markets can be exclusionary towards people of color and people with low incomes43, 44 and many consumers and managers of farmers markets tend to be white, educated, and affluent45. Navigating the EBT authorization process, installing EBT machines, and maintaining an EBT program can be time-intensive and costly for farmers markets; farmers market vendors and managers may be reluctant to implement EBT if they perceive a small SNAP customer base22, 23.

What is the relevant historical background?

Throughout U.S. history, discriminatory housing, lending, and exclusionary zoning policies entrenched racial residential segregation and concentrated poverty46, 47. This systemic disinvestment and exclusion by both government and private entities created and maintains community environments with limited resources, deteriorating infrastructure, hazardous industries and waste disposal sites, and many other factors that lead to poorer health outcomes for people of color and people with low incomes48, 49, 50, 51. Communities shaped by discriminatory policies are often areas that have limited access to healthy and affordable food, formerly known as “food deserts”40, 41. Individuals who live in these communities face higher food costs, fewer store options, and must travel further to purchase healthy food than those who live in well-resourced communities40. Residents also have increased exposure to high calorie foods that have little nutritional value which often leads to worse health outcomes41.

Congress has created many policies that address food and nutrition in the U.S. based on both agriculture industry interests and anti-hunger efforts for people with low incomes. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) originated in temporary food stamp programs designed to alleviate hunger while also creating a market for food supplies deemed to be surplus by the Department of Agriculture. The Food Stamp Program (FSP) became a permanent program with the Food Stamp Act of 1964 and the program retained its dual purpose of improving nutrition for households with low incomes and supporting the agriculture industry52. The FSP evolved into SNAP with many variations in funding levels, priorities, and Congressional directives along the way52. Prior to 1996, SNAP benefits were commonly distributed in the form of paper vouchers which could easily be accepted at farmers markets. The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) mandated that all programs use EBT systems to distribute benefits52. EBT systems require infrastructure, such as telephone lines and electricity, that is not found at many farmers markets and SNAP redemption at farmers markets declined sharply as a result53.

Equity Considerations
  • Who in your community receives SNAP? Who is eligible for SNAP and does not receive it? How can your community improve outreach to increase SNAP participation among eligible non-participants?
  • What farmers markets are available to people who receive SNAP in your community? Where are they located and when are they open? How are farmers markets and SNAP being promoted in your community?
  • Who decides if EBT will be implemented in your community? What barriers do individual farmers and markets in your area face when becoming an authorized SNAP retailer?
Implementation Examples

As of January 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, over 3,100 farmers markets are authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits33. Some municipalities require farmers markets to accept EBT (e.g., San Francisco)34 and several state legislatures have enacted legislation to support using EBT machines at farmers markets (e.g., California, Indiana, and Massachusetts)11, 35. Many farmers markets that accept EBT report increases in SNAP benefit redemption, including Philadelphia Food Trust farmers’ markets36 and NYC Greenmarket program37.

In 2013, the USDA partnered with the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs to establish MarketLink, a program to help markets and farmers acquire equipment that allows them to accept EBT, debit, and credit cards. As of 2023, MarketLink has helped over 3,000 farmers and markets accept EBT38; MarketLink also has an interactive map of this national network of farmers and farmers markets that accept EBT, credit, and debit cards39.

Implementation Resources

Resources with a focus on equity.

USDA-FNS EBT - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) farmer/producer: Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), SNAP at farmers' markets webinars, and resources and data.

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

MarketLink-Map - MarketLink. Find local food to purchase: Use MarketLink's map of their national network of farmers and farmers markets.

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.

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

ISU-Food and sustainability resources - Iowa State University (ISU), Sustainable Food Processing Alliance. Online resources for food and sustainability.

CDC-HFR Farmers markets 2014 - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity. Healthier food retail (HFR): An action guide for public health practitioners. Chapter 4: Farmers markets. 2014.


* Journal subscription may be required for access.

1 USDA-FNS EBT - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) farmer/producer: Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT), SNAP at farmers' markets webinars, and resources and data.

2 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, D.C.: National Academies Press; 2009.

3 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: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (U.S. DHHS); 2011.

4 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: U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), Office of Policy Support; 2014.

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

6 Zhao 2020 - Zhao Y, Sawicki M, Kelly P, Kress K. Consumer attitudes towards accepting SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2020;15(6):835-850.

7 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.

8 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.

9 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.

10 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.

11 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.

12 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.

13 Woodruff 2018 - Woodruff R, Arriola K, Powell-Threets K, et al. Urban farmers markets as a strategy to increase access to and consumption of fresh vegetables among SNAP and non-SNAP participants: Results from an evaluation. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2018;8(2):93-105.

14 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.

15 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.

16 Jilcott Pitts 2020 - Jilcott Pitts SB, Wu Q, Gray W, Lyonnais MJ. Examining changes in farmers’ markets and in customers’ farmers’ market shopping frequency and fruit and vegetable purchase and consumption: Evaluation data from the Partnerships to Improve Community Health Project, 2014–2017. Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition. 2020;15(1):107-117.

17 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.

18 FMC-SNAP EBT - Farmers Market Coalition (FMC). SNAP guide for farmers markets: SNAP EBT equipment, services, and implementation.

19 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.

20 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.

21 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.

22 Franck 2023 - Franck KL, Jarvandi S, Johnson K, et al. Working with rural producers to expand EBT in farmers’ markets: A case study in Hardeman County, Tennessee. Health Promotion Practice. 2023;24(Suppl 1):125S-127S.

23 Kellegrew 2018 - Kellegrew K, Powers A, Struempler B, et al. Evaluating barriers to SNAP/EBT acceptance in farmers markets: A survey of farmers. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development. 2018;8(1):133-146.

24 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.

25 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.

26 Mino 2018 - Mino R, Chung K, Montri D. A look from the inside: Perspectives on the expansion of food assistance programs at Michigan farmers markets. Agriculture and Human Values. 2018;35:823-835.

27 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.

28 Wolff 2020 - Wolff G, Nelson-Hurwitz DC, Buchthal OV. Identifying and assessing factors affecting farmers’ markets Electronic Benefit Transfer sales in Hawai’i. Public Health Nutrition. 2020;23(9):1618-1628.

29 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.

30 Ringling 2020 - Ringling KM, Marquart LF. Intersection of diet, health, and environment: Land grant universities’ role in creating platforms for sustainable food systems. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems. 2020;4(70).

31 SSSA-McIvor 2017 - McIvor K. Soils in the city: Community gardens. Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). 2017.

32 CCAFS-Campbell 2012 - Campbell B. Is eating local good for the climate? Thinking beyond food miles. Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CGIAR Research Programs. 2012.

33 USDA-FNS accepting SNAP - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Farmers' markets accepting SNAP benefits: November 2020 list.

34 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.

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

36 Philadelphia Food Trust - The Food Trust. The Food Trust's farmers markets: Operates 20 farmers markets in the Philadelphia region.

37 Grow NYC - Grow NYC. Food access initiatives.

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

39 MarketLink-Map - MarketLink. Find local food to purchase: Use MarketLink's map of their national network of farmers and farmers markets.

40 Beaulac 2009 - Beaulac J, Kristjansson E, Cummins S. A systematic review of food deserts, 1966-2007. Preventing Chronic Disease. 2009;6(3):A105.

41 Walker 2010b - Walker RE, Keane CR, Burke JG. Disparities and access to healthy food in the United States: A review of food deserts literature. Health and Place. 2010;16(5):876-884.

42 PolicyLink-Flournoy 2005 - Flournoy R, Treuhaft S. Healthy food, healthy communities: Improving access and opportunities through food retailing. Oakland: PolicyLink; 2005.

43 Freedman 2016a - Freedman DA, Vaudrin N, Schneider C, et al. Systematic review of factors influencing farmers’ market use overall and among low-income populations. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2016;116(7):1136-1155.

44 He 2022 - He A, Morales A. Social embeddedness and food justice at farmers markets: The model farmers market program. International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy. 2022;42(7/8):640-655.

45 Warsaw 2021 - Warsaw P, Archambault S, He A, Miller S. The economic, social, and environmental impacts of farmers markets: Recent evidence from the U.S. Sustainability. 2021;13(6):3423.

46 Zdenek 2017 - Zdenek RO, Walsh D. Navigating community development: Harnessing comparative advantages to create strategic partnerships. Chapter: The background and history of community development organizations. New York: Palgrave Macmillan; 2017.

47 Kaplan 2007 - Kaplan J, Valls A. Housing discrimination as a basis for Black reparations. Public Affairs Quarterly. 2007;21(3):255-273.

48 Braveman 2022 - Braveman PA, Arkin E, Proctor D, Kauh T, Holm N. Systemic and structural racism: Definitions, examples, health damages, and approaches to dismantling. Health Affairs. 2022;41(2):171-178.

49 Prochnow 2022 - Prochnow T, Valdez D, Curran LS, et al. Multifaceted scoping review of Black/African American transportation and land use expert recommendations on activity-friendly routes to everyday destinations. Health Promotion Practice. 2022.

50 McAndrews 2022 - McAndrews C, Schneider RJ, Yang Y, et al. Toward a gender-inclusive Complete Streets movement. Journal of Planning Literature. 2022;38(1):3-18.

51 Brookings-Semmelroth 2020 - Semmelroth L. How Wilmington, Del. is revitalizing vacant land to rebuild community trust. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution; 2020.

52 SNAP-History - U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). A short history of SNAP.

53 Grace 2007 - Grace C, Grace T, Becker N, Lyden J. Barriers to using urban farmers’ markets: An investigation of food stamp clients’ perceptions. Journal of Hunger and Environmental Nutrition. 2007;2(1):55-75.