Creating a successful SNAP redemption program at your farmers market requires more than the necessary terminals, tokens and signage. It’s about creating a strong infrastructure for the program; developing a sustainable funding strategy; understanding and meeting the needs of a diverse customer base; and creating community partnerships to extend the reach of the program through marketing, promotions and incentives.
In celebration of National Farmers Market Week, each day we will share one of the seven steps to developing a successful SNAP/EBT program at your farmers market. For full descriptions, tips and color photos detailing the seven steps, we urge you to download the free publication, SNAP/EBT at your Farmers Market: Seven Steps to Success, from our website. You can also buy a print copy from Lulu.com.
Contents: STEP 1: Assess your Market’s Capacity and Commitment STEP 2: Know your Customer/Potential Customer STEP 3: Create a Funding Strategy STEP 4: Market and Promote SNAP STEP 5: Create Partnerships STEP 6: Consider Incentive Programs STEP 7: Set Up a SNAP Redemption System
Accepting SNAP at your farmers market benefits vendors and the larger community, but it does require smart planning and on-going organization and support. Markets that operate successful, sustainable SNAP projects all embody two important components: commitment and staff capacity.
Commitment: Successful SNAP projects begin with a strong commitment from all market stakeholders, from management and vendors to shoppers and the community. Everyone needs to understand what the market is trying to accomplish and how it will benefit everyone involved, even though only a few people will actually have the day-to-day responsibility for the program. It’s especially crucial for vendors to be involved at every step of the process in order to design a system that will work for everyone.
Staff Capacity: The most successful SNAP projects have at least one ‘champion’ who is committed to ensuring the success of the project. This person must be supported by staff members or volunteers that carry out the day-to-day operations. In addition to working directly with the customers and vendors, market staff will need to create and maintain promotional efforts; build and maintain partnerships; and work hard in the beginning to get the program established. Before you get started, you should assess whether you have the staff and/or volunteer time that this new program will take.
A farmers market that is dedicated to creating a welcoming, inclusive environment that reflects the needs of all its customers is well positioned to create a successful SNAP project. This means knowing the demographics of your community, the cultural and socio-economic diversity of your customers, and potential barriers to shopping at the market, such as language differences, transportation needs, physical accessibility, and even product variety.
During the planning stage, market stakeholders can evaluate the market via customer surveys, WIC FMNP and SFMNP sales and community feedback, to see how well it serves all shoppers and how well the current customer base represents the entire community. This is a great time to work with your partners and potential partners to gather as much information as possible.
Accepting SNAP benefits at farmers markets can greatly enhance business for farmers and vendors and increase access to fresh food for the community. The market organization, however, does not financially benefit from offering this program. Start-up costs include: infrastructure (equipment, staff time), outreach and promotion (signage, promotional materials), community education about SNAP’s availability, and activities related to establishing new partnerships. Ongoing costs include: monthly wireless network service charges and transaction fees, labor costs for program management and weekly staffing.
Even in light of these costs, organizers should not be discouraged. There are a number of funding strategies that can help with both start-up and ongoing costs, including grants, sponsorships, market generated revenue and debit card-generated user fees. These strategies are being used throughout the country to establish successful SNAP projects and assist with long-term sustainability.
Farmers market organizers understand that marketing and promotion are important to a market’s success, and these efforts are even more vital when developing a SNAP project, especially since preliminary research results from a joint PPS and Columbia University project are showing that the main reason customers with SNAP benefits aren’t using them at farmers markets is that they don’t realize that it is accepted. Since most farmers markets have limited budgets for advertising and promotional materials, market staff needs to be creative in their efforts to spread the word about SNAP. Fortunately, there are many clever, inexpensive and easy ways to spotlight the market’s new program.
Strategies for reaching SNAP customers include well-designed printed materials that are widely distributed; effective advertising and media relations, including press releases and social media coverage; special promotional events, both on- and off-site; and educational activities.
To launch and maintain a successful SNAP project, a farmers market needs a variety of partners, representing diverse groups from its community that can work to spread the word to potential SNAP customers, promote the SNAP project, and possibly provide funding support.
Traditional partners may include agriculture organizations, "buy-local" initiatives, food access and anti-poverty groups as well as government and non-governmental civic groups; however, market organizers should think outside the box about partners who may be able to support their efforts. Some of the market’s partners will be central to the SNAP project’s success while others may play a small but useful role, such as supplying funding for new banners that promote SNAP, or agreeing to post signage or distribute the market’s brochures in their office. The key to good partnerships is that both partners benefit from the relationship.
In an effort to attract SNAP customers to the market, an increasing number of markets are utilizing incentive programs to grow their SNAP customer base. An incentive program providing bonus or matching funds for SNAP usage at markets can be a great way to entice new customers while providing more sales for the farmers/vendors. At the same time, this program dispels the notion that farmers markets are too expensive. Farmers markets with incentive programs are reporting high redemption rates and are attributing increased SNAP sales directly to this effort. Additionally, there’s evidence that when the incentive programs end, sales remain relatively high.
To implement an incentive program, a market must have the resources to pay the matching or bonus dollars, and this is where partnerships can play an important role. Currently, pilot incentive programs operating throughout the country are being funded by foundations, local partners and governmental agencies.
With the proper tools and information in hand, setting up a SNAP redemption project at a farmers market is very straightforward process. Market organizers should: