First of all, accepting SNAP/EBT on your farm is not challenging, it is just a bit time consuming and tedious. But never fear! There are a lot of really amazing resources.
Just a few definitions to help get you started:
Accepting EBT on Farm
I would definitely start here: The CSA Farmer's Nationwide Guide to Accepting SNAP/EBT Payments by Zenger Farm. It is invaluable in this process and I recommend reading through the whole document thoroughly! I also recommend printing the document and having it next to you while filling out the SNAP application. This resource was written in 2013, but the information regarding applying with FNS is still relevant and extremely helpful. I would follow this part of the guide to a T (predominantly the info starting on page 15).
To accept SNAP benefits through EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) you will first need to:
Using a mobile reader to accept SNAP through EBT is not mandatory. You can use the paper voucher system and mail in the vouchers for a check. I decided it made more sense to be able to run SNAP cards (like a credit card) for our farm, rather than mailing in vouchers (and potentially discovering a customer has insufficient funds).
The caveat of using the mobile reader (which connects to your phone like a square reader) is that the reader is not free and neither is the service. So, you can either choose to pay for this service, or you can apply for grant funding. There are two options for applying for grant funding for this service. Here is a snippet of an email I received from Amanda Cross of the Oregon Farmers Market Association describing those options:
There are two programs out there right now to provide free EBT equipment to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers:
Next Steps and what I decided to do
After researching both options, I decided to go with MarketLink. I decided to go with MarketLink because I had heard it was more time efficient to go through the third party than through the government organization. I also did not need an additional smart device and planned to use my phone. After recently revisiting the Market Link v Oregon DHS info sheet, I believe the DHS program has become more robust, and might be more worth looking into. When I applied at the beginning of the year, there were more benefits of going through MarketLink. I would suggest calling both organizations to see which might fit your needs better.
The MarketLink application requires a bit of going back and forth between documents, emails, and government websites. First, you apply to see if you are eligible for the grant (this process takes very little time). If so, you will receive confirmation and a Market Link ID number via email. Once you have that, you will need to wait to continue applying for the mobile reader/app until you have your FNS Approval Number (meaning until the government approves your application for SNAP). Once you have that number, you can continue the process with MarketLink. For this part of the process, you will need to provide your Federal ID number again (business license) and the bank account information you want to use in order for the organization to pay you.
This is where it gets confusing. There are four different companies you will receive correspondence from in regards to the mobile reader/app. Here is the breakdown:
Once you get past all the applications and actually get the app and reader, it is actually very easy to use and our payments always come through. Also, the folks at Novo Dia Group have been very responsive.
Double Up Food Bucks for your CSA (NOT at farmer’s markets)
If you are a vegetable farmer and have a CSA, you can apply to work with PNW CSA Coalition (previously PACSAC) to help your customers receive up to a $200 Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) grant towards the cost of their CSA. You do not have to be able to take CSA to work with this organization, so skip all that headache above if you only want to use SNAP for your CSA.
I just received an email from Holly at PACSAC today. Here is a copy of that email:
We have DUFB funding through 2023, and are already working on our plan for after that.
Small caveat -- you need to join our org and we need to do the SNAP processing for your members. The reason why is that DUFB is tied to SNAP: a member can't get more DUFB than they pay in SNAP, so if, for example, a member can only pay a portion of their monthly fee because they have run out of benefits, they will only get part of their DUFB allocation, and we keep a running database on how much DUFB is left.
I'm attaching last year's documentation so you can get a feeling for what it entails. We haven't done 2021 yet but it will be nearly identical. Registration to join PACSAC will be out next week so join our listserv here to get notification.
FAQs: SNAP and DUFB
Get set up to process SNAP (this is a checklist on having PACSAC process your SNAP/DUFB members)
This looks like a wonderful opportunity, and they are very excited to work with folks all over the state. The fees for this service are:
The way the relationship works between your farm, PACSAC, and your customer is (from PACSAC website):
Other CSA accessibility ideas and resources
Here are some additional resources to consider when thinking about food accessibility and your CSA/Market presence.
Ok, that's all I have for now folks. If you have any questions, send them my way and I will try to help you out!
The Importance of Eating Locally
By Megan French, written June 2018
“When we told our youth that farming was a lowly aim compared with becoming teachers, doctors, or lawyers, what were we thinking? We need teachers for just a few of life’s decades. If we are lucky, we’ll see a doctor only a few times a year, and a lawyer even less. But we need farmers every single day of our lives, beginning to end. No exceptions.” -Barbara Kingsolver
The disconnect between food and farmer, food and environment, and food and well-being disrupts our relationship with the natural world and impedes our opportunities for growth.
Food is always at our fingertips, and access to food so convenient that we often forget the means to the end. We see the food as an obstacle before the end of a recipe, as a vehicle for body energy, and as a catalyst of social interaction, but do we see food as its components? As the parts that make up a single ingredient? Do we see the synthetics, the engineering, and the fossil fuels? Or alternatively, the soil, the sunshine, and the farmers who toiled over it?
If we begin to think of food as the parts that create it and the system from whence it comes, then we can begin to reconnect the broken links between well-being, environment, and farmers. By eating locally, we can witness and interact with the system first hand. We can see the humus of the soil, rich with mycelium and life, or the dry and dusty particles, stagnant with toxins and chemicals. We can talk to our farmer, hear her practices, her successes, and her failures. We can observe the health and abundance of the birds and the insects and the livestock.
There are four basic necessities in life: water, food, shelter, and air. We are keenly aware when most of these necessities are faulty. We are wary of unsafe and unclean water, we can feel our throats burn in times of forest fire smoke, and we feel solace when we come indoors from a cold afternoon out. But the impacts of unhealthy foods are not immediate and do not trigger us immediately.
The only true way to know our food is to know the land and the people who grow it. To grow our own food or to support a local sustainable farmer, eliminates the guesswork at the grocery store, the reading of convoluted nutrition facts, and brings certainty in a life of misleadings and advertisements. This process also allows us to reconnect with one the the things most important to our lives that we have taken for granted.
Eating locally can revitalize our community and our bodies. It can rehabilitate our impact on the soil, the water, and the air. It can teach us to reconnect with what sustains us.
Megan French, written April 2018
Before you feel hunger, a farmer gazes over her fragile forest of vegetable starts, each the size of the thread flaring from her tattered jeans. Each delicate tendril, a testament of patience and care. Each having been hand sewn into hand sifted soil, and placed in the perfect dark, warm, and humid conditions, waiting until peering eyes detect the first cotyledons. These first leaves prompt a great migration from darkness to the light; to propagation space with lots of room and plenty of sunrays. This wisp of a plant then takes these great rays to manufacture strength from chlorophyll, improve vigor, and become the tasty nutritious calories so essential to our bodies.
This meek and tender greenery is our food security for the next long cold winter. We have yet to emerge fully from this cold spring, yet a farmer must think of the next cold.
Before you feel hunger, there is a farmer planning. The first seeds in the ground will be the last to be consumed; storage onions, celeriac, cabbages, and leeks. These crops are slow growing, packing nutrients, storability, and hardiness into every cell, to nourish us all winter long.
The first seeds are started in February (January if one is crazy or tenacious), transplanted into the soil in April, and tended until harvest in September or October. When the plants are either consumed or safely stored until the next April, if luck holds and the rodents do not.
The first couple months are filled with anxiety and eagerness. The sanguine thoughts to grow, and to grow more than the previous year, are stifled by frozen dew and fifteen degree mornings, 40 mph wind gusts that rip holes in new greenhouse plastic, and waiting for water to flow in the canals. Plant starts will inevitably freeze, flea beetles will eat holes in the arugula, and hailstones will impale freshly planted greens. But, to be a farmer is to be an eternal optimist.
The farmer must purchase seeds, amendments, infrastructure and fuel, and make a guess at how hungry you will be. If the farmer is smart, she will look at records from the years past, ask markets and grocers for information, and make an educated guess of how much she can grow. If the farmer is lucky, you will tell her how hungry you will be and how much you will consume. If the farmer is fortunate, you will support her all year long.
Before you make your shopping list, a farmer is making her seed purchasing list. Before you plan your weekly menu, your farmer is planning her yearly harvest. The time it takes from germination to consumption can be months to years.
When the simplicity of a stop at the grocery store is broken down, the complexity of the food system is bewildering, lengthy, and elaborate: seeds, soil, labor, water, shelter, transportation, marketing, and storage. All of this adding up to the mere cents paid per pound at the grocery store.
The next time you visit a grocery store, a co-op, a farmers market stand, I invite you to think of each piece of food’s story, history, and journey. Before you feel hunger, support your farmer.
Recently, I was asked to write an article for the High Desert Food & Farm Alliance's annual directory. They asked me to describe a day farming in the high desert. I tried to encompass the experience of multiple farms and their farmers.
This video describes more about the directory and my piece is below.
By Megan French
This land of dusty hooves and yipping coyotes, of soaring Red Tails and darting marmots. This land where the sun is intense or fleeting, where the clouds are invisible or rumble full of thunder, where the breeze gently soothes or fiercely fights, where the nights are always cold. This land where fields are a palate swept brilliantly with wildflowers or scorched black with wildfire. This land is where we steward and where we call home.
Our fingers are cracked from arid sand, our hair bleached from the desert sun, and our cheeks blush from the endless wind. We know the value of a well-used handkerchief and a well-loved dog. We know the absolute sweetness of the air after the rain soaks the sage leaves and the sun warms the Ponderosa bark, like the delicate scent of an incense burning in the adjacent room. We know the harm of a single seed of cheatgrass or an unwatched step near warming rocks. And above all, we know so deeply the importance of observation. Because to be observant, in this land, is to be resilient.
Everyday we walk our fields, both looking for life, and for death. We notice the sand lilies have bloomed, and deem it spring; or the rabbitbrush bloomed and deem it autumn. We check our plants for the frost damage they almost certainly have sustained. We take note of their vigor, plunge our hands into the earth to check their roots, check the moisture, check for pests. We wish we could spend more time observing, but the time for a long day’s work started about an hour before dawn. The hens are fed (our favorites are told a story), the chicks are checked for warmth, and the whole time our sweet farm dog shadows and pays no mind at all to frantic squawking birds.
Second cup of coffee and we remember a restless night’s sleep; born from the bright moon heading towards full again, the impending frost, and the long to-do list. But, no matter, because the frogs croaked a midnight orchestral melody and the owls added a back-up ensemble, eventually lulling us to sleep.
The farmer is the carpenter, the electrician, the mechanic, the grower, the vet, the cook, and the poet. The farmer’s day never ends, only changes from one number on the calendar to the next. But, this is no job; there are no chores except that of calling family every weekend, there is no clock except that of a hungry belly, and there is no boss except weather and bugs and soil. There is only purpose.
To steward this land, one must be resilient. But, resilience comes in many forms. To be resilient is to be chilled to the bone all day standing in front of a broken tractor or a hurt animal feeling powerless, but forging forward toward a solution. To be resilient is to be fixing fence in the dark, wanting nothing more than a kiss goodnight and a warm bed, but knowing that will come again soon. To be resilient is to grow food with care; to seed, plant, weed, water, weed, water, and harvest, and to hope to the moon that those customers show up to that rainy market. To be resilient is to know that strength lies in the quality of community, the greatness of love, and the humility of head, to continue to observe, learn, and steward.