From the 1970s through the early 2000s, farmers selling at GrowNYC Greenmarkets accepted paper Food Stamps, enabling all New Yorkers to purchase their products.
But in 2001, Congress mandated that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly Food Stamps, be converted from paper coupons to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. While the new debit-style EBT card was a step forward in increasing program efficiency, reducing fraud, and decreasing stigma for using SNAP, the devices needed to process EBT cards required electricity and a phone line—resources not often found at your typical outdoor farmers market. Farmers markets that once redeemed thousands of dollars in SNAP became limited to cash and FMNP sales, reducing customers access to fresh produce and preventing farmers from accessing the billions of dollars of federal EBT money that flows into the city.
In 2005, GrowNYC bridged this divide by partnering with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to implement a pilot payment model at three Greenmarkets. Rather than encouraging individual farmers to purchase a wireless terminal, the market manager operated a central terminal where EBT cards could be swiped in exchange for tokens to be spent at market. With continued funding from the New York City Council, Greenmarket expanded the program to six additional markets in 2006 and saw sales increase from $1,000 to $14,000. In 2008, funded by the NYC Human Resources Administration (HRA) and in partnership with NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Greenmarket began distributing Health Bucks to incentivize shoppers using SNAP to purchase local food, the first program of its kind in the U.S.
Today, all Greenmarkets, Farmstands, and Fresh Food Box sites accept SNAP. Rising food security due to COVID-19 and the issuance of Pandemic EBT funds (P-EBT) caused a significant increase in SNAP usage at GrowNYC Food Retail Sites in 2020. SNAP sales at GrowNYC Food Retail Sites rose by over 50% compared to 2019, totaling more than $1,500,000. At some sites, daily SNAP sales reached over $6,000. For more information see A History of SNAP in GrowNYC's Farmers Markets.