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EBT/SNAP participants -- as well as normal credit card users -- will pay farmers with tokens after swiping their cards. (Republican Eagle photo by Sarah Gorvin)

SNAP. It's Red Wing Farmers Market

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Red Wing Farmers Market is now accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards so that people participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can buy fresh and local fruits, vegetables and other products.

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The farmers market officially unveiled the new service at the beginning of June, president John Anderes said. He said the main goal is to get lower-income people eating healthy foods.

"We know that obesity is almost an epidemic. Lower-income people tend to get the biggest bang for their buck," he said, adding that in many cases, unhealthful food is cheaper. "Part of what we're trying to do at the market is teach people how to use what's available."

Anderes said that the start-up cost for the service is about $5,000. He first approached the farmers market board about accepting EBT cards late last fall.

"I brought it up at the board that we really wanted to do this," he said.

But the board was concerned about where that $5,000 would come from, and challenged Anderes, he said. However, the next day, Anderes got an email from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Minnesota Department of Human Services saying that the Red Wing Farmers Market was the recipient of a $5,000 grant to start an EBT program.

"It was really weird, like creepy weird," Anderes said of the timing.

With the $5,000, the farmers market was able to purchase the card reader and pay for oversight of the program through the first year.

Now, when SNAP participants come to the Saturday Red Wing Farmers market, they will first go to the welcome tent. There, they will swipe their EBT cards for the amount of money they would like to spend that day. They will then be given tokens that they spend at the farmers' booths.

The farmers are reimbursed by the market, farmers market secretary Anita Otterness said.

"Previously, we did not have any means for someone using SNAP," Otterness said. "There was no way for them to use their SNAP funds."

In addition, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota will match the first $5 that SNAP participants spend at the market by giving them $5 in Market Bucks. That means that SNAP users will be able to buy $10 worth of fruits, vegetables and other products for $5 of EBT funds.

"I think it's great," said a Red Wing woman who was using the EBT service at the market for the first time Saturday. She declined to give her name.

She added that it has been hard to get fresh vegetables from other places where her EBT card is accepted.

But it's not just SNAP participants who will benefit from the EBT service. The card readeralso will read normal credit cards, allowing all customers to pay using their credit cards. Previously, the farmers market only accepted cash.

"That was also a bonus for us," Anderes said. "People run out of cash and their buying stops."

The Red Wing Farmers Market is one of 50 markets across Minnesota now accepting EBT cards. The market is open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Depot, 420 Levee St. Visit www.redwingfarmersmarket.org for more information on the market.

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Sarah Gorvin
Sarah Gorvin has been with the Republican Eagle for two years and covers education, business and crime and courts. She graduated from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 2010 with a  journalism degree.
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