Farmers Market president Jeremy Gray said three farmers are currently signed up through MarketLink, a collaboration of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs and the United States Department of Agriculture.
“They (USDA) are subsidizing the smart phone, receipt printer, credit card swiper and the software,” Gray said.
According to the MarketLink website, the goal of the program is to increase the acceptance of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program at farmers markets nationwide.
More than 900,000 Alabama residents use SNAP, formerly known as the federal food stamp program. Benefits are issued on an Electronic Benefit Transfer card, which is similar to a debit or credit card.
Farmers who have traditionally accepted payment in cash or check can now become SNAP-authorized and are eligible to receive free wireless equipment through MarketLink.
Approximately $4 million in grants for wireless technology will be issued through September, according to the USDA website.
Gray said local farmers have been interested in accepting SNAP for some time, but the application process was not designed for farmers markets.
“It was the bureaucracy that kept us from doing it. We had the same application as a grocery store. The EBT program was not set up for farmers markets. Now there is a special application for farmers markets, which made it easier for us,” Gray said.
The program is free to the farmer for the first year.
In the second year of the participation, farmers will be required to pay a $120 fee for payment processing. In year three, the cost to the farmer will increase to $220.
Walker County Health Action Partnership is working with the local farmers market to offset some of the expenses.
Gray said customer demand will determine whether local farmers continue to accept SNAP and other card payments in the future.
“The idea is that you get the three subsidized years and build up enough publicity so that it will pay for itself,” Gray said.
The EBT cards can be used to buy produce as well as plants and seeds.
The Walker County Farmers Market is open Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday from 7 a.m. to noon.