It’s the height of the season for luscious, farm-grown fruits and vegetables. But most people, who get help from the government with buying their food, can’t take advantage of the fresh, nutritional food at their local farmers’ markets. The food stamp system was replaced in many states with new Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. And since vegetable stands don’t usually come equipped with electricity, both farmers and many poor people were missing the harvest. But one state hopes to change that with a new pilot program that’s bringing wireless EBT technology to farmers’ markets. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has more on how the program is catching on:
It’s the height of the season for luscious, farm grown fruits and vegetables. But
most people, who
get help from the government with buying their food, can’t take advantage of the
food at their local farmers’ markets. The food stamp system was replaced in many
new Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. And since vegetable stands don’t usually
with electricity, both farmers and many poor people were missing the harvest. But
hopes to change that with a new pilot program that’s bringing wireless EBT
technology to farmers
markets. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Joyce Kryszak has more on how the
Six children form a low circle around Tammy Johnson’s skirt. They move together in
through the market, checking out overflowing baskets filled with crayon-colored
single mom from Niagara Falls comes to the city’s outdoor market regularly in the
Johnson says she has to.
“Because I no more than get stuff and it’s gone usually a day or two later, so I
prefer it over going
to the grocery store myself, because you can get a lot of your fruits and vegetables
a lot cheaper
here than in the grocery stores, plus it’s a lot cheaper, a lot better.”
But Johnson says even here it’s hard to stretch her limited budget. She’ll soon get
help from the
state. They granted her an Electronic Benefit Transfer card to buy food for her
family. It’s not
activated yet, but once it is, Johnson says she especially looks forward to using it
at the farmers
market. But Johnson’s enthusiasm for the EBT cards is rare. Most farmers here, and
at other test
sites, say they’ve made few EBT transactions. Johnson thinks it’s because people
still don’t know
they can use the cards at the farmers markets.
“Nobody really knows how the system works yet. They put an article in the paper,
farmers accept it, but nobody I know has actually used their cards.”
(natural sound – people making purchases)
Small signs reading “We Gladly Accept EBT” dangle from a handful of the farmers’
they go largely unnoticed. Crowds of people wait along the rows of tables to
dollar bills for crisp produce. It’s the way business has always been done at the
Farmer John Senek peers up from under the brim of his tattered green cap. He says
the old way is
good enough for him.
“Do you have the EBT machine here?”
(Senek) “No, we got one home but we don’t use it.”
“Why is that?”
(Senek) “Too much work. I don’t know how to run it. I’m too old for that stuff.”
Sixty of the hand held devices were given to farmers such as Senek who volunteered
for the pilot
program in May. They did get limited training and the promise that the machines
would be free
to use – thanks to a federal grant – for at least the first year. After that, there
could be a small
monthly charge, and per use fee. The payments take a day to transfer into the
accounts. The farmers say they signed on hoping the EBT’s would bring them more
But after the first couple months, optimism is wilting.
(Miller) “We just turn it on, but it takes a second for it to pop up.”
Even farmers who are still hopeful the idea will catch on are concerned about losing
business while punching in numbers.
As Farmer Jim Miller soon demonstrates, it takes more than just a second. It took
seconds for this trial transaction just to get started.
Miller says it might not seem like a big deal. But he says the lost time could mean
“It takes a little bit more time than taking two dollars from somebody, or ten
somebody. So, you’re wasting time while you could be working with other people.”
New York and the USDA are weighing the program carefully to see if it’s worth
Nathan Rudgers is New York’s Commissioner of Agriculture. He says they have faith
better promotion and education, the system will eventually help farmers and improve
food stamp customers.
“We are addressing the issue of education. We recognize the fact that it takes
to get new technology going, but we’re confident that business will pick up,” said
think it’s going to turn out to be a win for both the farmer and the food stamp
when we can do that, it’s a pretty successful endeavor.”
Single mom Tammy Johnson agrees. She says for her, and her six children, the EBT
system is a
fresh idea worth keeping.
“I just went today to get my card, so my card won’t be in effect until Monday, but
I’ll be back
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Joyce Kryszak in Niagara Falls.