The Iowa City Farmers Market announced Monday that it will soon accept EBT cards, a food assistance program. It also plans to start accepting debit cards and credit cards from all patrons by the opening of the market season on May 3.
Previously, it was up to individual vendors to choose whether or not to accept the electronic benefit transfers. Vendors would then have to get certified to participate in the program and purchase their own card readers.
Farmers Market Coordinator Tammy Neumann said that system limited participation. “Some [vendors] would do it for a year or two and then they’d give it up, and a lot of them didn’t take them,” she said. Some would put signs to indicate they accepted EBT but some didn’t, requiring customers to ask. “It’s not always comfortable for them to have to ask that question,” she added.
Last year, the market received a call from someone who’d been put in the uncomfortable position of asking who accepted EBT, Neumann said. Although the market keeps a list, attendance of these vendors could not be guaranteed. “It just makes more sense to have a centralized system,” she said. “And then anybody who has EBT can come to that location, swipe their card, and then they will basically be given coins and they will use those with the vendors. Then all the vendors that qualify will have to accept those.”
Not all market vendors will qualify for the program. Vendors selling non-food items, including arts and crafts and some prepared food, cannot accept EBT. But fresh fruit, vegetables, meats, dairy, eggs, bread, pickles and seeds will be available to EBT recipients.
In addition to the EBT program, the farmers market will now be able to accept debit and credit cards. As with the EBT system, shoppers will be able to swipe their cards in exchange for coins to use at market stands.
“We feel that farmers and the other vendors will hopefully see an increase in their sales with us accepting these [cards] now,” Neumann said. “We hope that more of those customers attend, and also the lower income consumers will have better access to the locally grown and more nutritious food.”