The Asheville-based Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project has come up with a great idea for encouraging low-income families to make healthy food purchases from the Asheville City (Farmers’) Market and also for increasing support of mountain farmers.

At the Asheville and many other farmers’ markets, including the Wilkes County Farmers’ Market in downtown North Wilkesboro, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients can make purchases with their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.

This is made possible by letting SNAP recipients use their EBT cards to buy tokens issued by the markets, which have the same value as American currency on purchases at the farmers’ markets.

SNAP-eligible items include produce, bread, meat, dairy products and plants or seeds that produce edible food.

Market vendors exchange the tokens they receive for cash from market officials.

The tokens are issued in $1 and $5 increments at the Wilkes County Farmers’ Market, but few such tokens are issued through EBT card swipes at the Wilkes market.

Less than around $75 in tokens were issued through EBT card swipes at last year’s Wilkes Farmers’ Market, said Crystal Keener, who oversees the market as the Town of North Wilkesboro’s tourism and marketing director.

This is unfortunate because it indicates that there aren’t many low-income families benefitting from healthy, locally-grown food from the Wilkes County Farmers’ Market.

It should be noted that the Health Foundation, based in North Wilkesboro, funds a “Backpack Voucher Program” that provides local children who are food insecure with “Market Bucks” (vouchers) that can be redeemed at the Wilkes Farmers’ Market for fresh fruits and vegetables.

This is done in cooperation with the Wilkes County Health Department.

Still, there is potential for reaching a larger population of people of all ages with unhealthy diets by encouraging the use of EBT cards at farmers’ markets.

Toward this goal, the Appalachian Sustainable Agriculture Project (ASAP) launched the “Double SNAP” program at all locations of the Asheville City Market.

It results in ASAP doubling the tokens issued to SNAP participants when they have their EBT cards swiped at the Asheville Market, thus doubling their purchasing power at the market.

For example, swiping an EBT card for $5 yields $10 in market tokens to spend on SNAP-eligible items at individual farmer stands.

Funding for the first year of ASAP’s Double SNAP program is from private donations.

ASAP Executive Director Charlie Jackson said Double SNAP is encouraging people to visit the farmers’ market in Asheville, sometimes for the first time.

Jackson noted that the farmers’ market provides many opportunities for people to learn about new foods and how to prepare them, and to meet the farmers who grow it.

ASAP partners with Asheville’s public transportation system – Asheville Redefines Transit — to produce a bus map with all Asheville farmers’ markets located along the bus route.

ASAP also lists farmers’ markets in western North Carolina that accept SNAP on its Local Food Guide at appalachiangrown.org.

The Wilkes County Farmers’ Market, at the Yadkin Valley Market Place on the CBD Loop, is among those listed.

ASAP offers resources to help farmers’ markets throughout the “Appalachian Grown” region that want to accept SNAP.

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