This article was published in the Lenoir News-Topic.

On Tuesday, the Sawmills Farmers Market becomes the second farmers market in the county to allow payment using debit cards and food stamps. The Lenoir Downtown Farmers Market started in May.

The Sawmills market started the process last season of applying to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for approval to accept electronic benefit transfer cards, which the government uses to administer the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, market treasurer Brittany Crump said.   Markets approved to accept SNAP must have a wireless point-of-sale terminal, which comes with the added benefit of accepting debit cards. The market does not plan to accept credit cards because of the fees charged by credit card companies, Crump said.

The use of cards for SNAP benefits will not be a direct purchase, however. As at the downtown market, the cards can be used for $1 tokens, which then are exchanged with vendors. All tokens must be used the same day they are issued.

Crump, who is also a health educator with the Caldwell County Health Department, said allowing the use of food benefits will help break down barriers for families with limited access to healthy food, and will help support local farmers.

“That’s state money that they’re getting for food, and to be able to use that money that’s allotted to them at a local farmers market that’s supporting local farmers is great,” Crump said. “It’s keeping that money in the community.”

During the 2012 market season, customers at the Sawmills Farmers Market were surveyed for three weeks to determine whether they’d be interested in using SNAP benefits at the market, Crump said. Nearly 50 percent of those surveyed said they would use the service or knew someone who would.

“That’s when we really started looking at, is this something we want to offer, because it was obviously something that those people who were obviously shopping there would use,” Crump said.

The market sought received grants and assistance from the USDA, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project and the Farmers Market Coalition getting equipped, including the wireless point-of-sale terminal.

Currently, about 2,000 farmers markets in the U.S. accept SNAP benefits, according to USDA data. About 70 of those markets are in North Carolina.

“I think that it’s all on everyone’s radar,” Crump said. “It’s something that will increase access to healthy fruits and vegetables, so it’s important for all the farmers markets to consider it.”