City farmers markets offer food-stamp bonus


More than half of the city’s 126 farmers markets this year are offering $2 in coupons for every $5 spent on fresh produce using food stamps. The redemption rate has more than doubled.

July 5, 2011 3:38 p.m.

The July 4th holiday weekend marked the beginning of selling season for many of New York City’s 126 farmers markets, and this year a large crop of them will offer an incentive to often overlooked demographic.

Through the city’s “Health Bucks” program, shoppers using food stamps will receive $2 in coupons for every $5 they spend on fresh produce at participating farmers markets. The coupons are redeemable at 65 markets throughout the five boroughs.

Health Bucks began as a pilot program in the Bronx in 2005 and has expanded each year. Last year, 89% of the coupons were redeemed, up from 40% in 2007.

“We want all New Yorkers to be able to take advantage of farmers’ markets and have access to nutritious, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Dr. Thomas Farley, commissioner of the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. “Health Bucks make fruits and vegetables more affordable and bring people to the farmers’ markets.”

The program is part of an effort to get more of those markets to accept food stamps. Food stamps have been authorized for use at farmers’ markets for years now, but many outlets have balked at the costs and logistics of processing them. Incentives like Health Bucks help to defray those costs.

The Myrtle Community-Run Farm Stand in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, which opens Tuesday for the season, is participating in the program for the second time this year. After relying on time-consuming phone calls to process vouchers last season, the stand bought a machine to process EBT cards this summer.

Community Development Director Meredith Phillips Almeida said that accepting food stamps is part of the project’s fundamental purpose.

“The farm stand’s mission is to provide quality fresh produce, and affordability is a really important part of that,” Ms. Almeida said. “We want to be a local retail outlet where people can use those benefits if they have them.”

This article originally appeared in Crain’s New York Business and was picked up by the Gotham Gazette.

About Eliza Ronalds-Hannon