At first glance, the Durham Farmers’ Market looks just like any other farmers’ market. But beyond the rosy red tomatoes, creamy goat cheese and green peppers lies something more.
The Durham Farmers’ Market, located at 501 Foster St., accepts Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (SNAP), more commonly known as EBT or food stamps.
Less than half of the state’s markets accept these benefits, and the Durham Farmers’ Market started its program roughly six months ago.
Jenny Elander, the market’s SNAP coordinator explains how it works.
“Basically, we have this device to be able to swipe EBT cards,” she says. “So you just swipe a card, and then the customer tells you how much they want in tokens.”
The wooden tokens, each valued at a dollar, work just like cash. And customers can use the tokens to buy almost anything in the market, from fresh produce to meats and cheeses.
The market also has what is called the “Double Bucks Program.” When customers swipe their EBT cards, they are given double the number of tokens, up to 10. So if a customer asks for $10 worth of tokens, he or she is actually given $20 worth.
These programs are all a part of the Durham Farmers’ Market’s efforts to reach low-income members of the Durham community and provide them with fresh and healthy foods. According to Elander, this is extremely important.
“The farmers’ market has like…a high concentration of extremely fresh, locally produced, really healthy foods that you can’t find at…a corner store, a gas station or like a little supermarket,” she says. “It’s a really awesome, healthy alternative.”
Erin Kauffman is the market manager at the Durham Farmers’ Market. Like Elander, she says that the SNAP program allows for low-income households to gain access to locally produced foods.
“Before we were able to accept SNAP, I felt like we were unintentionally excluding a portion of the population because they weren’t able to use their food dollars to shop here,” she says. “So I think that it makes the market more inclusive and accessible to everybody.”
And Kauffman is quick to explain why buying food at a farmers’ market is better than buying it from a large-scale grocery store.
“One, it’s better for your health,” she says. “Everything is super fresh, picked the day before or the day of market.”
She also explains how farmers’ markets help the local economy.
“You’re supporting local farms,” she says. “You’re supporting local businesspeople. You’re keeping money in your community instead of giving it to like, big corporations like Harris Teeter or Walmart.”
And by supporting the Northeast Central Durham economy, the market is supporting low-income households, the very households that use SNAP benefits.
Rickie White is the owner of Waterdog Farms, located roughly 30 minutes outside of Durham. This is White’s second year selling at the Durham Farmers’ Market and he believes that the SNAP program is a wonderful idea.
“We want to be able to serve the whole community of Durham, not just one segment,” he says. “And I feel like the SNAP program allows us to kind of, you know, get food out, and good food and healthy food out to a larger segment of the population.”
Like Kauffman, White also points out that the food found at farmers’ markets is generally healthier than the food found on grocery store shelves. It’s grown closer to home, and therefore contains fewer pesticides and preservatives.
“We want to raise our kids and our relatives with healthier food so they can live longer, healthier lives,” he says. “And that shouldn’t be just accessible to wealthy people. It should be accessible to everybody.”
This was the original idea behind the SNAP program at the Durham Farmers’ Market. To provide each and every Durham resident with the opportunity to live a healthier life, regardless of socioeconomic status.
Kauffman says that the program improves the entire Durham community, regardless of anyone’s race, age or gender.
“I think that when the community comes together around something really wholesome like food, it’s a really positive experience,” she says. “And when all members of the community can be, can have access to fresh food, everybody wins.”
Promoting a healthier lifestyle for all: it’s the ultimate goal of the Durham Farmers’ Market.