What information can you give me on starting a farmers market and EBT options for markets?

B.S.TexasAnswer: Thank you for your recent request for information from ATTRA, the National Sustainable Agriculture Information Service. I am pleased to provide you with information regarding starting a farmers market and EBT options for markets. I will address your questions in separate sections below.Starting a Farmers Market:Texas has specific requirements to become a certified farmers market. The application packet can be downloaded in PDF format at the following link:http://www.picktexas.com/farm_market/FarmersMarketApp011910.pdfIf you have any questions, e-mail grow.texan@TexasAgriculture.gov or call (877) 99GO-TEX.If you are truly interested in starting a full-fledged farmers market, my second suggestion is to form a steering committee, if you have not already. The New York State Farmer’s Market Association has information on how to do this in their publication “Step by Step guide for Establishing a Farmers Market Association” (PDF/111KB).The steering committee could be made up of consumers, farmers, and community leaders. Once you have formed a steering committee to help guide the process, you can begin planning, which can be quite extensive. I have listed below several publications (available online) that should be helpful in your planning process. They are from different state efforts, but all of them have relevant information that will be helpful to you. I would suggest that all steps in the planning process be written down and formal bi-laws be drafted to prevent any type of legal problems that might occur in such a situation. Refer to Neil Hamilton’s “Farmers Market Rules Regulations and Opportunities.” This is an older publication, but many of the considerations Hamilton discusses still apply. The USDA, Agricultural Marketing Service has grants available. The USDA AMS Farmers Market Web site has information on grants and other farmers market related news and information. Information on both of these entities is listed below.Starting an EBT Project at your Farmers Market:Overview:As you may well know, EBT is an acronym for Electronic Benefit Transfer and it is now the only means in which retail establishments (including farmers markets) can accept SNAP benefits (formerly the food stamp program.) SNAP benefits now come on a card and in order for a market to accept them they must become authorized by the Food and Nutrition Service and buy machinery that can process the cards. Providing a machine that accepts SNAP benefits is a tremendous opportunity to provide low income residents with healthy local food and increase sales for vendors, however it starting a SNAP program is without its challenges. Becoming authorized can be difficult for farmers market as they do not fit into the typical retail model of most grocery stores, but change is on the way. There will be a new application process specifically for farmers markets starting in November 2011. Until then, you have to apply as any retail establishment through the Food and Nutrition Service. The application can be accessed at the following link:http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ebt/fm.htmAnother limiting factor for starting a SNAP project is the start up and administrative and start-up costs associated with such a project. A wireless machine to accept SNAP (and debit and credit cards) typically costs between $800 and $1200. There are also transaction costs associated with these machines. It helps to have funding to help defray the costs of a machine, transaction costs and the extra staff person required to swipe cards and maintain proper records. Occasionally state Health and Human Services programs will fund this project. There are funding possibilities with USDA Farmers Market Promotion program grants and private donors. The Montana farmers market EBT manual, “How to Accept SNAP Benefits at your Market” details the procedures and ways to address the challenges mentioned above. Please refer to this for procedures, sample budgets, and funding opportunities. This manual is for Montana farmers markets, but many of the principles still apply. You can access HTML and PDF copies of this manual, among other information at the following location.http://www.ncat.org/special/market_managers.phpAlso, the USDA Agriculture Marketing Service has recently written a manual with a national focus titled “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook.” The complete document can be accessed at the following link:http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/getfile?dDocName=STELPRDC5085298&acct=wdmgeninfoResources:Hamilton, Neil. 2002. Farmers Market Rules Regulations and Opportunities. The National Agricultural Law Center. University of Arkansas School of Law. Eggert, Dianne. Step by Step guide for Establishing a Farmers Market Association. Farmers’ Market Federation of NY and Dept. of Agriculture and Markets. http://www.nyfarmersmarket.com/pdf_files/developingFMA.pdfThilmany, Dawn. Planning and Developing a Farmers Market: Marketing, Organizational and Regulatory Issues to Consider. Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics. Colorado State University. February 2005. http://www.coloradofarmers.org/images/ABMR-Feb05-01.pdfUSDA-Agriculture Marketing ServiceEmail: farmersmarkets@farmersmarketsusa.orgPhone: 202-787-1966 or toll free at 877-703-0552http://www.ams.usda.gov/AMSv1.0/FARMERSMARKETSThe AMS farmers market section has information for starting a farmers market on the right tab of their web site. Farmers Market CoalitionThe Farmers Market Coalition is a not for profit that works with farmers markets on a national level. Their web site has a wealth of resources on starting a farmers market and EBTSNAP program at farmers markets.http://www.farmersmarketcoalition.org/resources/