This year, the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF) partnered with the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets (MFFM) to help cover the cost of purchasing SNAP processing equipment for farmers’ markets. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the program formerly known as food stamps, helps 1 in 8 Mainers (mostly children and seniors) purchase more food for their households. The equipment to process SNAP, which can range in cost from $300-$1,000, is prohibitively expensive for most of Maine’s small farmers’ markets. This partnership comes as a swift and critical response to the needs of farmers’ markets in Maine that have struggled to find affordable and reliable SNAP processing equipment in recent years.
As SNAP access expands at Maine farmers’ markets, many markets have needed new or upgraded equipment. The Bucksport Bay Farmers’ Market was one of the markets that received a new machine in 2019. Leslie Wombacher, market manager at the BBFM explains, “just when our market opened up, we found that our machine broke down. We did not have the funds to purchase another one.” MFFM was able to quickly purchase BBFM a new machine from their existing merchant services provider. “We were fortunate that we didn’t have to turn away any of our SNAP customers,” says Wombacher.
“Because farmers’ markets are often in parking lots or open fields, SNAP processing equipment must work remotely, using cellular data,” says Jimmy DeBiasi, Director of Programs at the Maine Federation of Farmers’ Markets. “It has proven to be a challenge to find equipment that can work off of the limited cellular service options in Maine’s rural landscape. The partnership with DACF gives us the flexibility to find solutions that work for each independent market.”
Since July of this year, 6 farmers’ markets have received new SNAP processing equipment through this partnership. All of these markets offer Maine Harvest Bucks, the program that provides SNAP shoppers bonus bucks to be spent on fresh fruits and vegetables. “The Harvest Bucks program makes healthy food much more affordable for people who shop with SNAP” says Lindsay Pelletier, a market staff member at the Presque Isle Farmers’ Market. “More and more people are finding out about the program and coming to the market, because their SNAP dollar goes further here”. The Presque Isle Farmers’ Market is one of the markets that were in need of replacement SNAP equipment, due to a malfunctioning machine.
“In Maine, most SNAP dollars are spent at big box stores and supermarkets on food produced out of state,” says DeBiasi. “When local farmers receive SNAP dollars, SNAP becomes not just a program to help people afford enough food, but also an economic driver for Maine’s local food system. Food Stamps was a program founded to purchase the agricultural surplus of US farmers, and that’s what we’re helping to accomplish by supporting SNAP access at farmers’ markets across Maine.”
Approximately 35 farmers’ markets accept SNAP in Maine. These locations provide food access points for families and seniors to purchase high quality, fresh and nutritious Maine produced food. Through this partnership, MFFM plans to continue to expand SNAP access at farmers’ markets and farm stands, with a priority on rural areas that lack fresh food outlets.
To learn more about this program, contact Jimmy DeBiasi at email@example.com
Read about SNAP at farmers’ markets via MFFM’s online resources.