Shoppers with EBT food benefits are in for a pleasant surprise when they go to the Wausau farmers market. A special token now will double the amount of food they pay for.
The program, funded by a grant from Ministry Health Care, is meant to encourage healthy eating by making the farmers market more affordable for those receiving benefits. If it goes over well, the program could be extended to all communities in which the health care organization operates.
The initiative, new this year, is one of a number of programs derived from a community charitable fund at Ministry, says spokesperson Geoffrey Huys. Farmers markets in Stevens Point, Oshkosh and Appleton are benefiting from similar grants.
EBT recipients have long been able to swipe their state-issued benefit cards, getting market tokens in return for a specified amount of food dollars. Now they get a special token that doubles that amount. A recipient accessing $10 from an EBT card would get $20 worth of spending power at the market, for example. Farmers are then reimbursed for the amount they collect for their products.
The idea originated with Huys, an active member of the healthy eating organization Slow Food Marathon County. He’s a fan of farmers markets himself. Other than milk and a few other odds and ends, the vast majority of his groceries come from the market, Huys says. But eating healthy can seem more expensive than buying processed foods, often putting farm-fresh, local selections out of reach for struggling families. Huys dreamed up the idea as a means to help make healthy eating more manageable for local families.
“The idea is we wanted to make the farmers market more accessible,” Huys says. “One of the criticisms we hear is that ‘the farmers market is too expensive, we can’t afford to buy there.’ That’s not always true, but we wanted to make it easier for folks to get fresh, local food.”
So far, market goers are enjoying the extra boost, says Craig Carlson of Ninepatch Farms, whose market stand houses the EBT exchange. Only a few people have actually asked about it at this point, but everyone is happily surprised when they get the larger double dollar token, Carlson says.
The program could also expand with demonstrations of how to use local, seasonal produce, Huys says.
Ministry donated $10,000 to help fund the EBT program at the Wausau Farmers Market. The grant also included another $5,000 for marketing and promotion.