Each year, millions of dollars are wasted in uncashed food assistance program checks representing dollars that could be benefiting low-income consumers, local farmers and the physical and economic health of our communities. These lost opportunities make it very important to effectively communicate information about these programs to consumers and farmers.
Four government programs offer payment options beyond the usual cash, check or credit card to eligible low-income consumers at farmers’ markets. Those options are:
1. Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants & Children (WIC) recipients
2. FMNP checks for senior citizens enrolled in the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP)
3. WIC Vegetables & Fruits Checks (WIC VF) for WIC benefits recipients
4. Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits – formerly “Food Stamps” – can be used at Farmers’ Markets equipped with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) machines.
The FMNP provides checks to women, infants and children through the WIC program and to seniors in the CSFP for the purpose of promoting improved nutrition through increased consumption of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
It is also intended to expand sales at farmers’ markets. The fresh fruits and vegetables can be purchased with checks at farmers’ markets during the summer and fall. The program runs from June 1 to November 30 each year.
Although these checks are being issued by two different offices to two different segments of the population, the farmer only needs to submit one application to be authorized to accept all FMNP checks. All the checks are handled the same way.
Qualified consumers receive one booklet of checks for the whole season through either the WIC or CSFP program. Checks will not have the consumer’s name on them.
- All WIC participants will receive checks (unless records show that a WIC mother did not redeem the checks in previous years, in which case she may not be offered them in the future.)
- Seniors receive their FMNP checks from local senior centers. Eligible seniors must be at least 60 years of age, and must receive benefits through Social Security, public assistance, food stamps, HEAP, or section 8 housing or earn less than $1,670 per month for a single senior or $2,246 for a couple.
- The checks are worth $4.00 each and are issued in booklets typically containing between $20 and $30 in checks (the exact amount depends on the county).
- Checks may only be used to purchase locally grown produce from qualified farmers at farmers’ markets and/or roadside stands that have been approved by the State agency to accept FMNP checks.
- Consumers may combine the checks to make larger purchases, but may not receive change. Farmers can encourage participants to add more produce to equal the coupon’s value if their original purchase is under $4.
- There is no fee to participate.
- Farmers must sign up annually with a manager of the market(s) in which they plan to participate.
- Farmers must grow at least 50% of the produce they sell at the market.
- Important: BOTH the market manager AND any participating farmers at that market must supply the necessary paperwork to the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets (NYSDAM) in order for the farmers to be authorized to accept FMNP checks.
- Farmers receive participation materials from NYSDAM after the market manager submits the market application.
- After the farmer completes his paperwork (including submitting a crop plan to his market manager) and submits it to NYSDAM, he or she will be issued a rubber stamp and signage for the vendor booth. Typically, the farmer will retain the same stamp for subsequent years, but will be required to submit forms annually to re-authorize the stamp.
- Upon accepting FMNP checks, the farmer stamps the checks and may cash/deposit them at any time at any Key Bank until December 15 of the year issued.
The WIC VF is a program that provides WIC moms and kids with monthly checks to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables year’round. This program tends to be more difficult for farmers to navigate. Local Cornell Cooperative Extension offices and NYSDAM are available to help guide farmers through this process.
- Every month WIC moms and kids are issued checks: $6.00 for kids and $10.00 for moms (or sometimes $15 for twins/triplets etc.). For example, a mom with three kids (no twins, etc.) would receive a total of $28.00 in four checks.
- These checks can be used either at participating grocery stores or farmers markets to purchase fruits and vegetables. The produce need not be locally grown.
- Each check expires after 30 days.
- To participate in this program, farmers must fill out an application and agreement in addition to their FMNP application and attend annual training specifically for the WIC VF.
- The application and agreement are in effect for 3 years, after which the farmer must complete a new application and agreement.
- Important: the farmers’ market and the farmer MUST be approved to accept FMNP checks before the farmer can also be approved to accept WIC VF checks.
- Because WIC VF checks have the consumer’s name on them, the farmer must ask for an ID of the consumer. The farmer must fill in the purchase amount accurately on the check, and make sure the consumer signs the check.
- The same stamp used for the FMNP checks is also used to stamp the WIC VF checks, but the farmer has only 60 days from the “Not Good Before” date on each check to deposit it. It can only be deposited, not cashed, and it must be deposited in the bank account specified on the farmer’s application.
The SNAP recipients carry a card, similar to a credit card, instead of a booklet of coupons for food. Many farmers’ markets are now equipped with electronic benefits transfer (EBT) machines needed to accept SNAP cards, thus allowing low-income consumers who do not qualify for WIC/FMNP benefits to access fresh fruits and vegetables and MUCH more (see list below). In a partnership with NYSDAM and NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the Farmers Market Federation of NY administers a statewide wireless EBT program. With wireless, handheld Point-of-Sale (POS) terminals in farmers markets, farm stands, mobile markets and NYC Green Carts, consumers have greater access to fresh, healthy, affordable and locally grown foods. Farmers also have a new customer base, helping to increase revenue and support the local agricultural community.
- SNAP customers need to locate the EBT machine at the market, which should be highly visible and marked by prominent signage.
- They swipe their benefit card and receive EBT tokens each worth $1.00. They can purchase as many tokens as they like.
- The tokens or food stamp scrip are used as cash to purchase eligible products from the farmers and vendors in the market. No change is given.
- Eligible products include all fruits and vegetables, meats, fish and poultry, cheese and all dairy products, eggs, baked goods, processed foods, maple/honey/cider/juices, herbs – plants and bunched, and plants and seeds that bear food.
- There is no expiration date on tokens and they can be kept from week to week. EBT customers are permitted to return unused tokens for a refund to their EBT account.
- There is one EBT terminal at each participating market, administered by the market manager or their designee. There will be some accounting to be done before, during and after each market day.
- Farmers must be trained by the market contact in charge of the EBT machine, fill out agreement/application, and when approved, display signage that they accept the tokens.
- Farmers accept the tokens as payment for their products and redeem the tokens from the market manager for cash.
- The market itself pays a monthly fee for the EBT machine and absorbs a small transaction fee for each card swipe. These may be reimbursed by the Farmers Market Federation of NY.
CCE FMNP State Outreach Team
Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE) provides statewide outreach for the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. CCE representatives from several counties/regions throughout New York State provide support to communities participating in the program. This team is led by Jennifer Wilkins, a Senior Extension Associate in the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Division of Nutritional Sciences.
The goal of the state outreach team is to promote the FMNP in order to improve coupon redemption rates among participants which will improve recipients’ access to fresh produce while benefitting farmers throughout the state. Specific projects of the FMNP State Outreach Team follow.
The FMNP Outreach Team develops and distributes FMNP promotional resources that not only promote the FMNP, but also provide information about local farmers’ markets.
Each month, the outreach team creates an FMNP electronic newsletter which highlights statewide events, news, and insights pertaining to farmers markets and healthy eating.
The outreach team maintains the Eat3 website, which is another resource promoting healthy eating and locally grown produce. There are three main concepts supported by the Eat3 website (www.eat3.org): Eating Well, Eating Local, and Eating Together. Each month the outreach team produces an Eat3 press release that can be used by other Extension offices throughout the state. In addition to the Eat3 website, the Food and Nutrition Education in Communities (FNEC) website (fnec.cornell.edu) is another website used by the FMNP team to promote nutrition, local agriculture and provide resources for Extension educators.
Currently, the outreach team is working on a research study to develop a set of best practices for CCE and other community agencies to use in order to increase redemption rates of WIC FMNP coupons.
The team is also in the process of creating an online training course that will educate nutrition professionals, CCE educators, farmers and community members on the FMNP, the WIC Vegetables and Fruits program, and SNAP/EBT benefits. This course will be made available through Cornell University’s NutritionWorks website.
To learn more about local foods, visit the Adirondack Harvest website.