4/12/2014 7:00 AM
By Janice F. Booth Maryland Correspondent
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — “We already accept senior nutrition coupons at our stand, now we can add SNAP to the debit and credit cards we take. It’s good business,” said Paula Harman of Harman Produce. She and her husband sell their produce at the Havre de Grace Farmers Market and their roadside stand on Route 22 in Churchville, Md.
She was one of many farmers that signed up for the MarketLink program at the Maryland Department of Agriculture on April 3.
The program, a new USDA initiative, helps direct-market farmers and farmers markets sell fruits, vegetables and other eligible products to SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) clients.
Once the application for MarketLink is completed and processed, producers get a free iPhone 5 with an electronic card reader and receipt printer. There’s also a year of free processing for charges to any SNAP, debit or credit card and producers also get two free years of wireless cellphone service.
To take advantage of the program, all a producer has to do is apply to establish their eligibility with USDA. An agreement is then set up for a wireless plan and credit payment services.
According to marketing research from the program’s coordinators at the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs, 75 percent of all sales today are done with credit, debit and SNAP cards.
Amy Crone is leading the MarketLink recruitment program for Maryland’s Department of Agriculture and coordinating the national recruitment campaign. She said that more than 2,000 applications have been completed nationally, with more than 70 applicants from Maryland. More than $4 million has been earmarked nationally for the MarketLink program.
Robert Knopp of Knopp’s Farm in Severn, Md., said: “I want to stay competitive, so I’ve got to add SNAP cards to my business plan. And this way is so much easier than taking the tokens,” he said.
“We sell our beef and pork using the square right now, and our business has grown,” said Dawn Barnes of Great Expectations Farm in Eldorado, Md. “It’s not cheap buying meat. We’ve gotten calls asking if we accept SNAP. So we’re excited to be able to accept SNAP cards and do all our charges through this new iPhone system.”
But Shirley Lewis of Lewis Orchards in Cavetown, Md., is less certain.
“I hate computers; I hate dealing with them. But my kids persuaded me that if I want to sell my peaches and strawberries and apples, I have to take all these cards at my stand. So, here I am,” Lewis said, adding that she seemed more confident as she went through the sign-up and orientation process with the other farmers.
The Havre de Grace Farmers Market sent Carol Sweet, market coordinator, to check out how the Havre de Grace Farmers Market can help its vendors get into the program. The Anne Arundel County Department of Health also sent representatives from the Healthy Anne Arundel County Coalition to see how their clients can be encouraged to take advantage of the fresh, local food for sale at farmers markets in Anne Arundel County and elsewhere.
Kristin Blomendahl, a social worker with the county health department, said: “Food access is critical to preventing and reducing obesity and the related health risks. We are here to see how we can help our clients take advantage of MarketLink.”
MarketLink “is a major step to expand where SNAP clients can shop,” said Agriculture Secretary Buddy Hance in a recent bulletin.
Producers who missed the April 3 sign-up day can go online to complete the process. Go to www.marketlink.org and complete the questionnaire. Then, acquire the USDA online authorization; you’ll need copies of your driver’s license and Social Security card. The third step is to submit the WorldPay customer processing agreement that sets up the wireless and payment services. A producer’s bank account information is needed so WorldPay will know where to deposit sales payments.
Within a month, producers will get an iPhone 5 with an electronic reader to accept credit, debit and SNAP cards, along with a compact receipt printer.