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Greenmarkets see increased sales from food stamps

Greenmarkets accepting food stamps are seeing a booming business in communities where fresh fruits and vegetables are often hard to find.

It was recently announced that the number of food stamp purchases at greenmarkets in the city doubled in 2010. This helped prove that people who are on public assistance are interested in buying healthy foods, elected officials and advocates said.

Food stamp purchases at greenmarkets doubled, growing from $251,000 in 2009 to over $500,000 in 2010. A total of 80% of those dollars went directly to the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables grown by regional farmers. Single day sales went as a high as $6,000 at some locations.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who helped the city to partner with GrowNYC to provide paperless Electronic Benefits Transfer Cards readers for farmers’ markets beginning in 2006, as well as signage and community outreach, was especially pleased with the results. So was Councilwoman Annabel Palma, who is chairwoman of the Council’s General Welfare Committee, which overseas all social service programs.

“The City Council is proud to support programs like our greenmarket EBT initiative, which helps get healthy food to hungry New Yorkers,” Quinn said.“This year’s dramatic increase in food stamp usage at our greenmarkets demonstrates that New Yorkers want to eat healthy. They simply need to be given the option. It’s also the perfect example of a smart use of city resources, keeping more federal food stamp dollars in the hands of local farmers and vendors, and supporting local jobs.”

The vendors at greenmarkets saw their ability to accept foodstamps hampered by technological changes when the city switched from a paper food stamp system to an electronic debit-card style system in 2000. Now, over 40 sites around the city have EBT machines, which allow those on public assistance to make purchases at the markets. In 2010, 13 additional greenmarkets were given access to EBT technology.

Palma, who was raised by a single mother who relied on food stamps, strongly believes in the initiate. One of the most successful farmers in terms of growth among customers who arefood stamp recipients the Poe Park Greenmarket, where from 2009 to 2010 the number of daily sales from related to foodstamps rose from almost nothing to $500.

“Too often, fresh, locally grown produce is not easily accessible in our city, but thanks to the leadership of the speaker, GrowNYC, and the City Council, low-income New Yorkers now have better access to healthy food than ever before through the city’s greenmarkets,” Palma said.

The program breaks down stereotypes that low income people are not interested in healthy eating options said Kerry Birnbach, coordination at Interfaith Voices Against Hunger, an anti-hunger group.

“This is a way of showing that low income people do really want healthy food, and if they have a way of buying it, they will do it,” Birnbach said.

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