In a recent blog, we mentioned some of the benefits of shopping at a local farmers’ market. I know you are saying, that’s all great, but my budget is tight, or perhaps you worry that you will stick out like a sore thumb while trying to navigate an unfamiliar place and juggling bags and loose change. Well I am here to say, with a little knowledge and the ever increasing number of farmers’ markets accepting SNAP/FNS benefits; farmers’ markets have become welcoming places where everyone can purchase healthy, fresh foods, even on a tight budget.
Here are some tips for finding a farmers’ market near you and to shop with confidence while saving big with EBT.
- The number of farmers’ markets is steadily increasing every year making it hard to keep track, however there are many ways to find a market near you. Call your local county extension office to ask about farmers’ markets and farm stands in your county that accept EBT. To find your county office visit: https://www.ces.ncsu.edu/local-county-center/ and contact the Family Consumer Science or Local Foods Agent.
- Many farmers’ markets now have Facebook accounts or websites. Once you have the name of your local market, search it to get updated schedules, see what’s available for purchase, and where the market is located.
- If you would like to use your EBT, stop by the welcome tent to purchase tokens with your SNAP benefits. These are used like cash with qualifying vendors at the market. Any extra tokens can be saved and used the next time. This is also where you may receive a dollar for dollar match on EBT purchases if your market participates in such a program. The process is simple and easy – watch our video that shows you how to use EBT at the market.
- There may be items at the farmer’s market that you cannot purchase with EBT, the same as at the grocery store. You may purchase fruits, vegetables, dairy, baked goods, fresh herbs, meats, eggs, honey, jams, and even food producing plants; however you cannot buy hot and ready foods, hot brewed coffee, or cut flowers, among a few other items.
- If you are shopping with cash, it is best to carry small bills. Many farmers price their items in $1.00 and 0.50 cents increments to keep the math easy. Smaller bills are appreciated and help the farmer do quick exchanges during busy markets. Unlike the grocery store, where you checkout at the end of your shopping, you will make purchases with each individual farmer you choose to buy items from.
- If you plan on buying a lot, it may be helpful to bring a backpack or a sturdy canvas/nylon bag to carry your items. Farmers’ will often have plastic bags for you to use, however, they do not handle the weight of large amounts of food as well as a reusable bag.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions about foods you are unfamiliar with. Farmers’ often have great recipes to go with their products, or can talk to you about the best method to prepare the food. Be sure to not over-handle the foods, but ask for assistance if you aren’t sure how to pick produce that is ripe.
- Know what is in season so you can plan your meals and shopping. Farmers’ markets offer a variety of foods, but because they focus on locally produced foods, not every fruit and vegetable will be available year round like they are at the grocery store. After getting into the habit of shopping this way, you will be able to know the foods that will and will not be available. To see what fruits and vegetables are in season right now in NC, check out the NCDA Seasonal Availability Chart.
- Create a list before you go to the market, and walk the market to check prices and availability before you swipe your EBT card. Having a plan with a little wiggle room will help you keep from overspending or going home with more food than you can handle. Being flexible with your produce shopping list is helpful, because not all the items you want to find may be available at the market.
United States Department of Agriculture (February 2017). SNAP and Farmers’ Markets. Retrieved from https://www.fns.usda.gov/ebt/snap-and-farmers-markets.
United States Department of Agriculture (2017). Scrip System (paper scrip, tokens, or receipts). Retrieved from https://www.fns.usda.gov/ebt/scrip-system-paper-scrip-tokens-or-receipts.
Cameron, Meaghan. (2017). 13 Secrets Farmers’ Markets Won’t Tell You. Readers Digest, Online. Retrieved from http://www.rd.com/health/healthy-eating/13-things-you-should-know-about-farmers-markets/.
Watson, Molly. (July 2016). Farmers’ Market Shopping Tips. The Spruce, Online. Retrieved from https://www.thespruce.com/farmers-market-shopping-tips-4067698.
Velden, Dana. (May 2014). 10 Etiquette & Shopping Tips to Help You Enjoy the Farmers’ Market. Kitchn, Online. Retrieved from http://www.thekitchn.com/10-etiquette-shopping-tips-to-help-you-enjoy-the-farmers-market-expert-advice-