Farmer Jackie Monroe talks to four or five people crowded around her booth at the Boulder Farmers Market. She talks about the fresh muskmelon she’s selling and makes a few sales to residents using SNAP dollars.
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. It allows low-income families to buy fresh fruits and vegetables by essentially doubling the money they can use at the farmers market. If they spend $20, they get a matching $20 with ‘double up bucks,’ which are accepted by most produce farmers at the market.
At the end of August, farmers markets nationwide are in danger of losing the ability to process payments from SNAP, but Boulder County farmers markets won’t be affected due a change they made in spring. Last fall, the U.S. Department of Agriculture cancelled a contract with the Farmers Market Coalition, which provides farmers markets with the software to process SNAP payments.
Boulder County decided to switch its software provider from Novo Dia to Clover. Both programs operate in similar ways, but Clover is a more reliable and integrated system, says Brian Coppom, Executive Director of Boulder County Farmers Markets (BCFM). Novo Dia is the primary software provider offering this service to more than 40 percent of farmers markets nationwide, but Novo Dia is cancelling its service and going out of business, leaving SNAP’s future at farmers market hanging in the balance.
Monroe, who depended on food stamps years ago when her daughter was born, said the service helped feed herself and her family quality food.
“It was something I really appreciated and it’s something I fought to bring to the farmers markets,” Monroe said.
“It’s had a dramatic effect,” Coppom said. “It’s really important to be able to eat right and form those positive associations with healthy food early on.”
In Boulder County, SNAP benefits at the market have been available since 2009. In 2012, the USDA set up programs nationwide including a software to process SNAP transactions. The Farmers Market Coalition took over the service in 2014.
Despite the efforts of the Farmers Market Coalition renew its contract, the USDA announced that it was turning the service over to Financial Management Transaction, a year-old company with one listed employee.
Efforts to spread awareness about eating healthy, fresh foods, and marketing SNAP at the farmers market has more residents coming out to shop, Coppom said. In 2013, BCFM had $13,000 in SNAP-based sales at their four farmers markets. In 2017 it was $50,000 and with the double up program it’s more like $100,000.
“I’ve probably seen about twice the amount this year from previous years,” Monroe said.
Coppom, who is also a member of the Farmers Market Coalition, wants to see SNAP benefits continue not just in Boulder County, but in all farmers markets nationwide. The Farmers Market Coalition is strategizing ways to keep the program going.
“There is a lot of optimism if we can get a good cost on the Clover system, we can replace the old one with no interruption,” Coppom said.
Software is expensive and the FMC is trying to raise money to implement an alternative system and issue out the appropriate software by crowdfunding. Just because Boulder is spared from losing its SNAP farmers market program, doesn’t mean we won’t feel the effects from the loss.
SNAP is a heavily regulated program that supplements the food budget for low-income Americans. For many the dissolution of the program feels like another way to plight the poor, another way to make them feel undeserving of health, longevity, and the enjoyment that comes from a fresh, home cooked meal with family.