EBT Tokens as a means of Reducing Disparities

Author: Saul B. Schuster, Mailman School of Public Health

According to a joint report by the non-profit groups Project for Public Spaces and Wholesome Wave (2010), there has been a proliferation of farmer’s markets around the United States and numbered around 5,000 nationally at the end of 2010. Farmer’s markets provide produce that requires less transport, less handling, less refrigeration, and less time in storage by bringing consumers in direct contact with those growing their food. In addition, since what is available to purchase is dictated by seasonality, the fruits and vegetables taste much better as they are only sold when at their peak.

There is an abundance of evidence that supports a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, meaning that from a public health standpoint farmer’s markets could be viewed as a successful program by increasing access. But these benefits have not historically been equitably distributed. A study done by the Oregon Food Bank (2005) found that low-income residents in their city cited several common barriers: awareness of markets, physical access to markets, and prohibitive pricing. One promising initiative to reduce the disparities in access to farmer’s markets was created by the Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA. The program allows participants of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to purchase tokens for use at the farmers markets. Some farmer’s markets, such as Greenmarket in New York City, also provide bonuses for EBT users, whereby extra dollars will be given after a certain number have been spent.

Rather than being seen as a sign of elitist gentrification, farmer’s markets can be tools for reducing disparities in access to healthy affordable foods. The USDA wholly supports the effort and has developed materials to help spread the practice. However, a study by the CDC has found low EBT redemption rates at farmers markets. Their recommendation? More outreach to increase awareness of the program. So start spreading the word, and help this intervention reach those who could benefit greatly from increased access to health affordable food.

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