New plan allows low-income residents to shop for healthy fare at some local farmers markets

Affordable, healthy food is now easier to get for people who buy food with food stamps, thanks to a coordinated effort that allows more farmers markets to accept EBT (electronic benefits transfer) cards. Now people can use EBT cards to buy fruits, vegetables and other healthy food at six Minneapolis farmers markets (up from three last year). The markets are:

As an incentive to shop at the markets and encourage people to eat healthier foods, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) and the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support are offering "Market Bucks" coupons, which match the first $5 in EBT card purchases with an additional $5 in Market Bucks each market day. That amounts to $10 of food for just $5 – a great value in these tight times.

Positive results from last year’s launch of EBT services at the Minneapolis and Northeast Farmers Markets, and increased use of food support dollars at the Midtown Farmers Market were the driving forces behind the decision to expand EBT and Market Bucks this year. At Midtown Farmers Market, the first market in the Twin Cities to accept EBT cards, the number of people using EBT at the market more than doubled and EBT transactions more than tripled over 2009. Six in 10 repeat customers surveyed reported that the Market Bucks program positively affected the amount of fruits and vegetables they ate (46 percent eating "a little more" and 13 percent eating "a lot more").

At a time when more than 60 percent of adult Minnesotans are overweight or obese – and at risk for a host of serious diseases and conditions that drive up health care costs – creative approaches to encourage healthy eating are urgently needed.

According to a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota study, only 15 percent of Minnesota adults eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables daily. That means the vast majority of people are falling short of a balanced diet. Access is especially important for EBT recipients, for people living in neighborhoods that lack full-service grocery stores or other sources of fresh produce. EBT at farmers markets and the Market Bucks promotion provides greater access to fruits and vegetables, which can help people achieve or maintain a healthy weight and be well.

The EBT and Market Bucks program also helps customers support local farmers and connect with their communities. In 2010, over $27,000 was spent at area farmers markets through EBT and Market Bucks, circulating federal food support and other resources into the local economy.  In addition, farmers markets encourage an understanding of where food comes from and provide ways for people to connect with their neighbors and community.

Offering EBT and Market Bucks is the result of a unique community partnership among the six farmers markets, Blue Cross, the City of Minneapolis, the Statewide Health Improvement Program of the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Hennepin County and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy.

The partners also kicked off a promotional campaign aimed at welcoming EBT shoppers to the farmers markets. The campaign features multilingual outreach at the markets and in the community, advertising on the radio and on buses, and signage at markets.

Published Jul 7, 2011