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.
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 vegetables2, 3, 4, 5. Multiple surveys and interviews describe the lack of EBT payment at farmers markets as a barrier to fruit and vegetable consumption for consumers with low incomes and suggest that accepting EBT at farmers markets would increase access to fruits and vegetables for card holders6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12. Early research associates EBT access with increased fruit and vegetable purchases13 and consumption14. 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 carts15. 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 supplies16. 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 vendor17. In some cases, farmers markets accepting EBT have increased total revenue18, 19, although individual vendor sales vary19.
Subsidies to reduce the cost of EBT terminals as well as marketing and outreach to shoppers with low incomes may be needed to increase both farmers market and consumer participation20. Farmers market managers may be more willing to adopt EBT systems when given an opportunity to try before purchasing21. Community partnerships can support EBT at farmers markets by obtaining funding, developing operating procedures, and promoting availability22.
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 produce23. 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 food24, 25, 26. 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 products24.
Impact on Disparities
As of November 2020, according to the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food and Nutrition Service, over 2,700 farmers markets are authorized to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits27. In 2020, 60% of the almost 1,400 farmers markets listed in the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service’s National Farmers Market Directory accepted SNAP benefits28. Some municipalities require farmers markets to accept EBT (e.g., San Francisco)29 and several state legislatures have enacted legislation to support using EBT machines at farmers markets (e.g., California, Indiana, and Massachusetts)30, 11. Many farmers markets that accept EBT report increases in SNAP benefit redemption, including Philadelphia Food Trust farmers’ markets31 and NYC Greenmarket program32.
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 2020, MarketLink has helped over 3,000 farmers and markets accept EBT33; MarketLink also has an interactive map of this national network of farmers and farmers markets that accept EBT, credit, and debit cards34.
Many farmers markets are offering online shopping and curbside pick-up in response to COVID-19 and continue to accept EBT payment, for example, the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin35 and the Keauhou Farmers Market in Kealakekua, Hawaii36.
USDA-FNS EBT - US 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.
* Journal subscription may be required for access.
1 USDA-FNS EBT - US 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, DC: 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: US Department of Health and Human Services (US 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: US 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 US Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and farmers markets in Mississippi. Community Development. 2015;46(1):67-77.
6 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.
7 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.
8 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.
9 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.
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 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.
14 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.
15 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.
16 FMC-SNAP EBT - Farmers Market Coalition (FMC). SNAP guide for farmers markets: SNAP EBT equipment, services, and implementation.
17 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.
18 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.
19 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.
20 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.
21 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.
22 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.
23 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.
24 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).
25 SSSA-McIvor 2017 - McIvor K. Soils in the city: Community gardens. Soil Science Society of America (SSSA). 2017.
26 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.
27 USDA-FNS accepting SNAP - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). Farmers' markets accepting SNAP benefits: November 2020 list.
28 USDA-Farmers market directory - US Department of Agriculture (USDA), Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS). Local food directories: National farmers market directory.
29 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.
30 NCSL-Farmers market - National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). Farmers’ market.
31 Philadelphia Food Trust - The Food Trust. The Food Trust's farmers markets: Operates 20 farmers markets in the Philadelphia region.
32 Grow NYC - Grow NYC. Food access initiatives.
33 NAFMNP-MarketLink - National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP). MarketLink.
34 MarketLink-Map - MarketLink. Find local food to purchase: Use MarketLink's map of their national network of farmers and farmers markets.
35 DCFM-EBT - Dane County Farmers Market (DCFM). FoodShare/EBT program and adapted market operations due to COVID-19.
36 KFM-Online market - Keauhou Farmers Market (KFM), Kona County Farm Bureau. Online market details.
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