Topeka A record number of Kansans are receiving food assistance, and there is an increasing number of farmers’ markets.
So some people think it’s only natural to increase access to those farmers’ markets to those who receive assistance and use the electronic benefits transfer card, or EBT for short.
“People have the opportunity to explore local foods and get excited about trying different things,” said Mercedes Taylor-Puckett, coordinator of the farmers’ market project for the Kansas Rural Center.
The problem is that when paper food stamps were converted to the debit-type EBT card, many of those receiving food assistance couldn’t shop at farmers’ markets because those markets lacked equipment to process EBT purchases.
That is slowly changing. The Lawrence Farmers’ Market was one of the first where shoppers could use the EBT card. Now about 10 of the 84 markets statewide are wired to accept the card.
The number is expected to grow as more and more Kansans turn to the federal food assistance program.
Approximately 260,000 Kansans receive food assistance now, which is a 27 percent increase over last year. In 2009, there was $263 million paid out in Kansas for food assistance.
And the economic impact of those expenses rolls throughout the agricultural community. If more people using EBT cards bought produce at farmers’ markets, then maybe more farmers would get in the business of growing fruits and vegetables, supporters of farmers’ markets said.
Paul Johnson, with Kansas Catholic Charities and a market gardener who provides produce to more than 300 households in Lawrence and the Kansas City area, said there is a lot of potential in the state to increase access to farmers’ markets and increase fruit and vegetable production in Kansas.
“In 1910, Kansas had 140,000 acres in fruits and vegetables but less than 8,000 today,” Johnson said. “Kansans import 97 percent of the $525 million in produce purchased annually in the state,” he said.
Johnson has asked a legislative committee to consider studying the issue of expanding local food production in Kansas after the legislative session ad-journs.