Fresh & Local
Farmers’ Markets and Electronic Benefit Transfers
Column #34, Published May 11th, 2012

There is currently a food revolution going on. Locally grown food is making permanent inroads into the food we eat, and the way we think about food.

Locally grown food has some real benefits like freshness, quality, variety and peace of mind over where it came from, where it has been, what is in it and how it was handled.

Much of this country’s locally grown food is only available through farmers’ markets. Unfortunately until recently, participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) - formerly known as the Food Stamp Program – had no way to use their benefits at a farmers’ market. All the advantages of locally grown food were unavailable to them.

Since last July, the Culpeper Farmers’ Market can accommodate SNAP participants.

The original Food Stamp Program used paper-denominated stamps or coupons. Over the last decade or so, the paper stamps were phased out and replaced by a debit-card system known as Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that there are about 7,100 farmers’ markets in this country, and that fewer than 2,000 of the markets have the ability to accept EBT cards. At the Culpeper Farmers’ Market, EBT cards can be swiped in exchange for tokens, and the tokens can be used at any of the market’s vendors.

The EBT program at use at the Culpeper Farmers’ Market is a partnership between Culpeper Renaissance, Inc. (CRI) which runs the market and the local Virginia Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS provides a wireless point-of-sale card reader and someone to scan EBT cards and issue tokens. CRI supplies and manages the tokens, including collecting them from the vendors and issuing vendor reimbursement checks.

CRI’s Missy Vesuna says that the EBT system is getting, “quite a bit of use.”

The USDA is putting up some of the money for these farmers’ market EBT projects. Kathleen Merrigan, deputy secretary of agriculture, was quoted in a recent Associated Press article as saying, “SNAP participation at farmers’ markets helps provide fresh fruit and vegetables to families and expands the customer base for local farmers — a win-win for agriculture and local communities.”

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While I’m talking about the Culpeper Farmers’ Market, there is a large amount of off-street parking available that many people don’t know about. The market is at the corner of Davis and Commerce streets. Right next to the market on Commerce Street is the St. Stephen’s Church lot. (Please don’t park in the St. Stephen’s lot.) On the other side of the St. Stephen’s lot are the Ann Wingfield Commons apartment lots.

There are really two parking lots at Ann Wingfield: an interior lot and an exterior lot. The entrance to both lots is on Spencer Street. As you enter the lots from Spencer Street, everything to the left is the exterior lot. The exterior lot is owned by the Town of Culpeper and it is available for public parking on the weekends. It includes all of the spaces that boarder both Commerce Street and the St. Stephens’s Church lot.

From the Spencer Street entrance, everything to the right is the interior lot, and is reserved for the residents of the Ann Wingfield Commons apartments.

Bryant Osborn and his wife Terry own Corvallis Farms in Culpeper County. His column on fresh and locally grown food runs every Friday. He can be reached at