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Market Now Accepts EBT

Shoppers at Wahiawa Farmers Market, which began accepting EBT last month. Photo by Dan Nakasone.

According to the state Department of Human Services, there was an average of 77,133 households receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly known as food stamps) benefits per month in Hawaii in 2011. That’s an average of $33,427,096 SNAP benefits issued per month.

Despite these figures, only a few farmers markets on the island accept SNAP benefits as payment.

In order to make the fresh, local produce that farmers markets carry available to low-income communities, GreenWheel Food Hub, a project of the Feed the Hunger Foundation, is launching EBT/SNAP acceptance at five Oahu farmers markets. Wahiawa Farmers Market became the first in GreenWheel’s project to accept payment via Electronic Benefit Transfer/SNAP on Sept. 13.

The idea for this project, which is funded by Hawaii Community Foundation’s Island Innovation Fund, was conceived when the organization noticed what GreenWheel’s Kasha Ho calls a “class divide” in eating local.

“Our goal is about increasing access and affordability to fresh, healthy, locally grown food for all communities in Hawaii,” Ho said.

In addition, GreenWheel hopes the program can be beneficial to the local food system.

“We feel like this opportunity to accept EBT at farmers markets is really a win-win situation, in terms of increasing access and affordability for low-income communities, and opening up a whole new market stream for local farmers,” said Ho. “There is a whole lot of money that comes into the state every month with SNAP benefits. If we spend just a few of those dollars here locally and they stay with local farmers, I think it’s going to make a huge difference for our sustainable agriculture here in Hawaii.”

EBT/SNAP benefits can purchase fresh fruits and vegetables, seeds or starter plants at the market.

“This should be very helpful for everybody,” said Libby Smithe, the farmers market committee chairwoman of the Wahiawa Community Based Development Organization, which organizes the market.

“Any time that we can help the community, we always want to be there,” Smithe said. “We just want to do something to help the people of our town. We want them all to be healthy.”

While Smithe said that just a few EBT customers showed up that first week, the market has since experienced a significant increase in customers – and the number of shoppers using EBT has grown.

“In fact, the whole market has grown,” Smithe said. She estimates that about 100 more people have been attending the market since EBT acceptance launched last month. A couple of weeks ago, the market experienced a record high attendance of 316 customers.

As a part of its project, GreenWheel will study the effect of EBT access – including the amount of EBT dollars spent, the number of market customers and vendor profits.

Honolulu Farmers Market is scheduled to begin accepting EBT within the next month through GreenWheel’s program. GreenWheel also hopes to work with the Mililani Farmers Market.

GreenWheel currently is working with the Department of Health to identify other areas on the island that could benefit from EBT access at farmers markets.

The Wahiawa Farmers Market is located at the Wahiawa Hongwanji, at 1067 California Avenue. It is open every Thursday from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.