California is offering free wireless devices that allow farmers to accept money from CalFresh recipients at farmers markets, farm stands, and CSAs. The grant-funded program covers the $1000-value POS (point of sale) device for scanning CalFresh cards, and provides complimentary training for using the device. Farm marketing and promotion are built in as well: CalFresh customers have access to lists of farms and farmers markets that participate in the program, and the Foodies Project, and likely others, will promote individual farm participants online.


Farms should apply now to take advantage of this ultimate win-win program for the rest of the season. Food and food justice advocates, health workers, CSA members, and anyone with a favorite farm should encourage their local producers to sign up.


CalFresh is the federally-funded food assistance program for Californiathe state version of the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nations largest source of nutrition assistance. This major entitlement program is fully funded by the federal government, which is required to make funds available to all eligible applicants, i.e. individuals and families who qualify based on income level. Participation and costs for SNAP are higher than ever, with nearly 50 million program participants in 2013, and a total annual cost of nearly $80 billion. State and county governments cover a portion of the administrative costs to run the program.




There are millions of CalFresh customers in California, and the program amounts to hundreds of millions of monthly revenue for food sellers. In June 2014 for example, more than two million Californians received CalFresh benefits that amounted to $620 million in monthly sales. Recent increases in CalFresh participation have not met the growing need for nutrition assistance; i.e. there are many qualified families and individuals who do not apply and do not receive benefits. CalFresh can be used to purchase food items as well as seeds and plants that will produce food. Prepared hot foods and non-food items (like pet food, household supplies) do not qualify, but CalFresh does cover meat and poultry, eggs, dairy, honey and other value-added items from farms like cheese, jams and bread.


To date, an extremely small portion of CalFresh dollars have gone to local food producers, especially through CSAs and farm stands. Although this sector of the farm economy provides some of the freshest and healthiest food for consumers, multiple barriers prevent low-income individuals from accessing local food markets. In Sonoma County for example, less than one tenth of one percent of CalFresh revenue went to farm stands, markets, and CSAs combined. Major barriers include transportation, price, and a historical inability to use food stamps or EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards at venues that have traditionally required cash or check payments.


The CalFresh EBT program removes the last barrier and directly benefits rural health and families all over the state by increasing access to healthy food. Incentive programs further reduce remaining price barriers between low income consumers and local farmers; for example, some farms offer discounts to CalFresh customers, and others allow CSA members to donate unclaimed shares to help lessen costs for CalFresh members.


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For farmers, facilitated collaborations with community-based organizations allow for easy management of CSA drop-offs, payment collection, and donation programs. There are no transaction fees for CalFresh EBT sales, and the minimum sales requirement is only $100 per operating month. If a farmers market already has a CalFresh program, these free EBT terminals cannot be used by individual farmers at that market, they must continue to use the program in place. But, if those same farmers do direct sales on their farms and/or offer CSAs, they should still apply, and will almost certainly qualify for one the free devices.


Applications for new CalFresh EBT devices are accepted on an ongoing basis, but farms that get their names on the list between now and the end of September will be more likely to receive new equipment. Before starting the process online, applicants should contact CA Department of Social Services Farmers Market Specialist Dianne Padilla-Bates at / (916) 654-1396.


Organizations and advocates who would like to promote the program to farms, communities, colleagues, friends and followers should contact Sarah Cain at the California Institute for Rural Studies at / (530) 756-6555 x19.


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