FUQUAY-VARINA — When the Growers Market of Fuquay-Varina opens this weekend, locally grown fruits and vegetables will be just a swipe away for some shoppers.
For the first time, the farmers market will accept debit and credit cards and Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which have replaced paper food stamps.
The change means customers won’t have to scramble for coins or remember to bring enough cash. But it also serves another purpose: to give needy families easier access to fresh food.
A two-year $65,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture is paying for the program at the Fuquay-Varina market and the Wendell Farmers Market, which began accepting EBT cards in April. The money covers the costs of electronic card readers, fees, advertising and part-time market managers.
Some other local farmers markets already accept the food-assistance cards, including the Western Wake Farmers’ Market in Cary and some vendors at the State Farmers Market in Raleigh.
“The nice thing about Fuquay-Varina is it’s such a walkable community, and there are a few low-income neighborhoods near there – which should make it easier for families to get to the market,” said Sheree Vodicka, director of Advocates for Health in Action, which helped the Fuquay-Varina and Wendell markets apply for the grant.
Vodicka said she hopes to build awareness that fresh foods can be affordable.
At the market, families with debit, credit or EBT cards will swipe their cards and receive $1 tokens that can be used as cash.
Wake County Human Services is providing money to match EBT cardholders’ purchases up to $5 each week while funding lasts.
Families who qualify for food assistance will receive information about the farmers markets when they sign up for benefits. Flyers are also going out, and advocacy groups are being asked to share information about the program.
More people who use food-assistance programs are shopping at farmers markets. Between 2008 and 2009, the total value of food-assistance redemptions at farmers markets and farm stands nearly doubled, from more than $2 million to more than $4 million, according to a USDA report.
In Fuquay-Varina and Wendell, the markets will decide whether to continue the program after the two-year grant ends. In the meantime, Advocates for Health in Action will track sales and use of EBT cards. The group will also periodically survey shoppers about whether the program has changed their buying or eating habits.
Fuquay-Varina has nine apartment and townhome complexes within two miles of the market. Among those, 350 units qualify as Section 8 housing for low-income families, according to Advocates for Health in Action.