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August 27, 2009
Kale for the Proletariat Farmers market accepting food stamps by Nathaniel Hoffman

Moscow is the first city in Idaho to accept food stamps at its farmers market, though Grangeville, Sandpoint and Lewiston are interested, said Amy Grey, director of Backyard Harvest and coordinator of Shop the Market in Moscow.

"The vendors are eager to work with folks who are struggling right now," said Grey, who runs the food stamp program at Moscow's Saturday and Tuesday markets.

The farmers often throw in a little extra produce for food stamp--or what they term Market Money--customers.

At the end of the 2008 season, 753 farmers markets across the country were authorized to accept SNAP benefits, a 34 percent increase from fiscal year 2007. While the percentage of redemptions is very little--about 15 families use the program each week in Moscow, dropping off later in the month as benefits are used up--the amount of money going to small farmers has increased from about $1 million in 2007 to $2.7 million in 2008.

Josie Erskine of Peaceful Belly also applied for a SNAP authorization but it has been slow to be processed. Erskine is on the board of the Capital City Public Market and sells organic vegetables,

"Healthy food and vegetables need to be subsidized just like junk food is," Erskine said. "It's unfair that McDonald's food has a subsidy and healthy salad doesn't."

Idaho has seen one of the highest increases in food stamp participation during the most recent recession--a 38 percent jump in the past year, said Kathy Gardner, director of the Idaho Hunger Relief Task Force. Gardner said farmers markets are realizing the economic benefits of accepting food stamps and finding a new customer base, but also realizing that providing healthy food to low income people is the right thing to do.

"It's new business for them to see this as hunger relief," she said.

The market applied for the $45,000 grant in April and just received word this month that it was successful. The money will pay for equipment, training and a staff person to run the booth so that low-income families can be integrated into the market.

"If we're not able to serve them, we become an elitist market and we're not doing our job," Ellis said.