Bemidji Area Farmers Market accepting EBT cards
In celebration of National Farmers Market Week, which was August 7-13, the Bemidji Area Farmers Market has announced that affordable, healthy food is now easier to buy for people who receive food support thanks to a coordinated effort by the famers market, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Farmers' Market Association.
MFMA, with funding received through a Specialty Crop Grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, recently installed point-of-sale terminals to accept electronic benefits transfer at the Bemidji Area Farmers Market enabling people to use their EBT cards at the market and thereby purchase healthier foods.
As an added incentive to encourage people to give the market a try and eat more fruits and vegetables, Blue Cross and MFMA are offering Market Bucks coupons. Market Bucks 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.
EBT acceptance at farmers markets is increasing in Minnesota. In addition to Bemidji, seven farmers markets in Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as markets in Albert Lea, Alexandria, Austin, Bloomington, Duluth and Richfield, also recently launched EBT and Market Bucks.
Positive results from a pilot program at three Minneapolis farmers markets last year were driving forces behind the decision to expand EBT and Market Bucks to more markets this year.
For example, at Midtown Farmers Market in Minneapolis, the number of people using EBT at the market more than doubled and EBT transactions more than tripled over 2009. Also, 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").
"We were really pleased with the results, so we jumped at the opportunity to work with more markets this year and help introduce more people to the healthy foods available to them at farmers markets," says Dr. Marc Manley, chief prevention officer for Blue Cross. "We're invested in this effort because we care about the health of all Minnesotans. This work makes the healthy choice the easy choice, so we have a better chance at preventing unnecessary disease due to unhealthy eating."
Using proceeds from its historic tobacco settlement, Blue Cross' Prevention Minnesota initiative funds the Market Bucks program. Prevention Minnesota works to improve the health of all residents in Minnesota by tackling the root causes - tobacco use and obesity - of the most preventable diseases and conditions.
At a time when 63 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 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 and 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.
"Our member markets are dedicated to providing access to locally-produced healthy food options throughout our communities," said Deonna Bouska, operations manager for MFMA. "It is wonderful to see the surge in farmers markets accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits in Minnesota, as farmers markets have a unique ability to directly affect the health and well-being of their shoppers. Visiting a farmers market is a fun and healthy experience that encourages the positive health changes we want for our families."
During the 12th annual National Farmers Market Week, the partners officially kicked off a promotional campaign aimed at welcoming EBT shoppers to the farmers market.
Since the United States Department of Agriculture began declaring National Farmers Market Week in 2000, the number of farmers markets has more than doubled, from 2,863 markets in 2000 to 6,132 in 2010. These numbers have continued to rise in 2011 as farmers markets become fresh food mainstays for shoppers across all socioeconomic, political and ethnic ranges.
Farmers markets bolster local economies, improve community health and encourage an understanding of where food comes from and provide ways for people to connect with their neighbors and community.
The Bemidji Area Farmers Market began in 2010 and currently has 12 farmers selling a wide variety of products, including numerous fruits and vegetables, chicken, honey, garlic, pickles and other canned goods.
"The Bemidji Area Farmers Market is pleased to have the addition of the EBT and Market Bucks program," says Michael Kerr, market president. "It will enhance the ability of our customers to eat healthy and stretch their food dollars, while increasing the income of their local growers."
For more information about the Bemidji Area Farmers Market, visit bemidjifarmersmarket.com.