A benefit to farmers, needy

Most South Sounders already know that the Olympia Farmers Market is one of the most successful venues for fresh fruits and vegetables in the state, if not the nation.

But did you also know that the Olympia market was one of the first in the nation to accept payments from customers using the Electronic Benefits Transfer system? It allows people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, to make purchases using their EBT cards.

Customers at the Olympia market take their EBT cards to the market office and receive tokens to spend with vendors. Ashley Powell, assistant manager of the market, says the system has been working well, and she’s happy that other markets have adopted it.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is trying to make it even easier for small markets to use EBT technology. The USDA has $4 million available in grant money for state to install wireless technology at markets and encourage more food stamp customers to purchase locally grown food.

Acquiring funds for wireless connections at the Olympia market would make it even easier for customers, Powell says. There are 7,100 USDA registered farmers markets across the nation, but only 1,500 can accept EBT cards.

Reports from the recent obesity summit staged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the lack of access to healthy foods is driving up U.S. obesity rates. And health experts have also noted a connection between the lack of access to healthy food for low-income people and that group’s high obesity rate.

All the smaller farmers markets in the South Sound should be applying for a share of the available grant money and installing EBT technology or upgrading to wireless capabilities.

Doing so will help local farmers and potentially improve the health of our most needy.