State agencies and Indiana educational and nonprofit organizations are hosting a seminar in Merrillville later this month to teach operators of farmers markets how accepting federal food assistance benefits can create benefits for shoppers and the markets.
The free event is one of a few seminars planned around the state to educate farmers, vendors and market operators about the electronic benefits transfer system and how it can be implemented at local markets.
State officials and other groups will speak from 10 a.m. to noon Jan. 14 at the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service office, 880 E. 99th Court in Merrillville. The Indiana Cooperative Development Center Inc., the Indiana Farm Bureau, the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration and the Indiana State Department of Health also are hosting the event.
Laura Hormuth, public health nutritionist with the Indiana State Department of Health, said Michigan farmers markets had more than $1.5 million in sales from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program in the year that ended Sept. 30 while 34 markets and farm stands in Indiana completed about $30,000 worth of similar transactions. She said she isn't aware of any markets in Northwest Indiana that accept SNAP benefits.
Despite the sales disparity, she said there is great potential to grow the amount of markets that participate in the program to increase access to healthy food options for Hoosiers and earnings opportunities for market participants.
"The first year of sales (for markets) are typically slow because people don’t know about it," Hormuth said.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture administers SNAP, which is the department's largest nutrition assistance program. Benefits are distributed on the debit-like Hoosier Works card, which is an electronic benefits transfer card. In total, low-income families in Indiana receive about $122 million each month of benefits through SNAP.
Hormuth said the U.S. Department of Agriculture is encouraging farmers markets around the country to accept SNAP benefits. The department provided $4 million in grant funding in 2012 to help states expand the availability of wireless technology so farmers markets could conduct these transactions.
In past years, Hormuth said market operators that accepted SNAP benefits would provide tokens to customers. The vendors would return tokens to the market manager and then they would be reimbursed with a check based on what they sold. But now, there are wireless card processing technologies vendors can use to have money sent directly to their accounts.
Registration is required for the session and can be completed by calling Tammy Goodale of Purdue University at (765) 494-1296.