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Farmers markets urged to accept food stamps

February 12, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
A new effort is under way to open California's farmers markets to food stamp recipients to help give lower income families access to healthy foods, fruits and vegetables.The vast majority of California's 640 farmers markets take only cash, virtually shutting the door to food stamp recipients who may want more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

Health officials worry poverty and unhealthy lifestyles can lead to obesity and diabetes.

"Low income individuals, families often times don't have access to the same quality food as other people. There simply aren't the stores available or they don't offer the same quality," said Fresno Assemblyman Juan Arambula.

Arambula is pushing a proposal that makes farmers markets have at least one terminal that accepts the electronic food stamps card.

It could be run by either a produce vendor or a non-profit organization.

While this could open up a new market for farmers, it also could help budget conscious shoppers.

Enrollment in the food stamp program grew by more than 40 percent in California from the fall of 2007 to 2009.

"There's so many of us that are hurting and can get on aid like that. I think anything that can help the people would absolutely benefit everybody, the growers and the population itself," said Vicki McIntyre, a farmers market shopper.

While the goal may be good, smaller vendors wonder how they'll be paying for the technology to accept electronic food stamps.

Millie Stasuc has seen business dive 50 percent during this recession and can't afford an added expense right now.

Much like a credit card machine, terminals need a phone line. A wireless device costs about $1,000, but even a landline may be expensive in the middle of a parking lot.

"We would need to pay a lot of money just to have it installed and everything. It's not worth it because it's only two days a week," said Stasuc.

Even if a non-profit group ran the terminal, she thinks she still would have to give up some profit to pool her money with other vendors to keep it running.