PGEW on SNAP: Back in the saddle, but this time, I’m headed to the farmer’s market!

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It’s never anyone’s goal to have to seek help in the form of food stamps or other financial assistance programs.  What’s even more out of the picture is having to go back to that kind of assistance, after almost making it out of one’s hole.  But even if economists say that things are slowly improving, this is where I find myself: back in the saddle of county aid bureaucracy and food stamps, a.k.a. SNAP.

This time around, there was no uneasiness about applying.  Not only am I racing against the rent clock until I finally secure another job (outside of the non-profit sector this time; I love working for causes I believe in, but sadly, those jobs are quite easy to lose because of their dependency on outside funding), I also have a business to run (PGEW) and a health condition to maintain with proper nutrition.  Nope, no shame or unease this time; just swift, efficient action, and a lot of patience.

While my visits to that office are far from over, I’m very pleased to have received assistance in the form of SNAP again or, as it’s now known in California, the CalFresh program.  It lifts a huge weight off one’s shoulders to know that one’s food supply will be covered, if nothing else.  And with the way I’ve honed my shopping & cooking skills over the past 3.5 years (!!!) of writing this blog, those funds will not only come in handy, they’ll go quite far.

So I can enjoy goodies like these...

The best part of the experience this time around has been learning that one of my wishes has come true.  Slowly, but surely, farmer’s markets across the nation are beginning to accept EBT cards as a form of payment.  This means that a whole group of people for whom the fresh, local and sustainable foods of a farmer’s market had not been an option, now have access to the kind of healthy foods that are so needed during financially trying times.  Because the last thing you need when you’re looking for a job is to be sick & unhealthy – makes the job hunt that much more difficult.

Longtime readers may recall that my last voyage into the world of food stamps both shocked and dismayed me in certain instances.  I couldn’t believe the kinds of unhealthy, processed junk foods that were totally okay to buy with my EBT card, while something as sensible as an herb roasted chicken was not allowed (because it’s considered a “prepared” food that is ready-to-eat.  True, but have they ever stopped to look at that chicken as an ingredient, and not just a single meal?). With the way obesity-related diseases are afflicting not just the poor, but Americans in general, administrators are finally taking notice, which is why these programs are finally being put into place.  We simply cannot continue to live under the guise that healthy = expensive, and therefore, inaccessible.

Now, I’m not going to get too involved in the legislative & bureaucratic background that’s led to this, as this post is more about the actual experience of using the program.  But a couple things to note from my research: While each individual market must apply for SNAP certification through the Food & Nutrition Service division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, it’s actually local, non-profit community organizations that help facilitate the process of accepting EBT/SNAP payments (more on that below).  I was also very pleased to find that there are nearly 1,000 farmer’s markets from across the nation listed as accepting SNAP benefits as payment, and those numbers are growing constantly.  This is fantastic news for thousands of people receiving SNAP, as it gives them the opportunity to shop for more nutritious foods.

Last weekend, I took my EBT card out for its first trip to my favorite farmer’s market in Sacramento: the Sunday market under the freeway at 8th & X.  This is the latest market in the Capital City to start accepting EBT payments, and I practically did backflips the first time I discovered that a few months ago.  It wasn’t affecting me directly at the time, I was just excited to see that they were finally going through with it.  And now here I am, benefiting from this change.  Crazy, no?

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect or how it would work; after all, farmer’s markets generally accept cash-only payments.  Fortunately, there were volunteers ready to help get folks started.  Alchemist, a community development organization here in Sacramento (founded by students of my alma mater, UC Davis… sorry, had to show some Aggie pride there!), runs the Urban Farm Stand, which provides access to fresh, healthy foods in urban areas with a high number of low-income families.  Nowadays, they’re also acting as the intermediary between area farmer’s markets and their customers, explaining the process and providing  vouchers for EBT users.

Their tent is centrally located at the “beginning” of the farmer’s market, in between my favorite fruit stand and all the deliciously evil bread & pastry stands (Oktoberfeast from Berkeley; nuff said).  After chatting with two very friendly, knowledgeable volunteers, I found that the process is quite simple: 1) you tell the volunteers how much you want to “withdraw” from your EBT card; 2) the volunteer then swipes your EBT card for that amount and gives you the receipt with your remaining balance, as you would normally get after any purchase; 3) you’re then given Scrip vouchers totaling up to that amount, for use at participating stands.  After a couple attempts at remembering my PIN, I got my vouchers and set off.

It may not look like much, but this will buy me 3 bunches of cilantro! Woo hoo!

I quickly realized that the actual shopping was not going to be as easy as it looked.  To start with, not every participating stand has their “We gladly accept EBT” sign on display.  This makes it very difficult to know where one can actually shop with the EBT vouchers, and for a while it looked like all I was getting that day was a bunch of almonds and several kiwis.  I went back to the Alchemist tent and asked if they had a list of participating vendors, and luckily, they did.  List in hand, I did a couple more non-buying rounds to get familiar with the vendors’ locations, then started to shop.

At the first stand I discovered the second obstacle to shopping with one’s vouchers: the change issue.  Farmer’s market junkies know it’s quite common to end up with a pocket filled with change after a day of produce shopping, and I’m used to coming home with very heavy pockets if I’m not careful.  But you can’t really do that with fixed amount vouchers.  Your total must be in round dollar amounts; no $1.25 or $3.45 amounts here!

It’s a bit of a pain the first time around, but the good news is that the vendors are really good about working with you to get to the right total.  One stand totaled up my order and I was $0.30 shy of the whole dollar amount, so she told me to grab 3 onions to bring me up to speed (how she knew the exact number of onions, I’ll never know), while another stand patiently worked with me to weigh out just the right amount of almonds so my total would be an even five dollars.  Truthfully, I think they did it more for the entertainment value of watching me scramble to do math in my head while being distracted by the next stand’s marvelous minneolas, but I appreciate their patience anyway.

Mmmmineolas...

Speaking of vendors, I was pleasantly surprised at the kinds of vendors that are willing to participate in this program (I found out from my favorite fruit stand lady that it’s not always financially sound for smaller vendors to accept the EBT vouchers, as reimbursement can take up to 60 days; more on this in a future article).  Granted, only about half the vendors at this particular market accept EBT, many of them being some of my “regular” stands, but I certainly didn’t expect to see the meat people in on the action!

Lucky Dog Ranch, a popular meat supplier in the Sacramento valley that sells only sustainable, humanely raised beef, is one of the participating vendors.  And for the first time in my Sacramento life, I made a purchase there.  Because I’m usually working with only $20 at a time when I go to the farmer’s market, I usually skip right over the meat, poultry and fish stands, because I know there’s no way in hell I can afford them.  Do I want to buy their fantastic, organic, sustainable, products?  Heck yeah!  Unfortunately, the good stuff is still out of my usual price range, and even if my “money” is coming from SNAP right now, it’s not something I’ll always be able to afford while I’m on this program.   But you’d better believe that I’m going to do my best to support a local business that is not only committed to sustainable farming practices, but open & generous enough to care about giving low-income families access to their products – even if it’s just $5 at a time.

When all was said and done, I walked out with a terrific load of beets, turnips, carrots, cabbage, onions, almonds, pistachios, ground beef, cilantro, scallions, Thai basil, kale and more for just $28 of my SNAP dollars.  I still have two of my vouchers left, and because they don’t expire, I’ll be able to use them on my next shopping trip.  I can’t tell you how thrilled I was to be able to use money I consider to be sacred – food money – on actual food.  Obviously, I get a lot of other ingredients at regular grocery stores, but my produce is also sacred to me; I want it to be truly fresh and of good quality, which is why I prefer getting it from my local farmer’s markets.

It's so much prettier and inspiring than the prepackaged stuff...

Will I be shopping my beloved farmer’s market this way forever?  I certainly hope not!  I’m eager to get back to feeling “okay” about things like rent and utilities – and food.  But I am, and will forever be grateful that SNAP and other general assistance programs exist.  I’m also extremely grateful that they’re allowing for people in dire financial straits to have buying access to fresh, healthy foods, and just as thankful for organizations like Alchemist to help put these things together.  Not all of these programs are perfect yet, nor are they offered everywhere, but it’s nice to see improvements being made.  I have great hopes that this is a sign of better things to come, so that all people, regardless of income, have the chance to eat well.  We all deserve it!

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singer. writer. artist. champagne taste, 2 buck chuck budget. good cook. kooky. chocoholic. patron saint of cats. talker. listener. thinker. sometimes to a fault.

15 Responses to "PGEW on SNAP: Back in the saddle, but this time, I’m headed to the farmer’s market!"

  1. ania says:

    I’m glad you had a good experience. Can you mix cash with vouchers? If so, perhaps it would be a good idea to bring a couple of dollars worth of change to make transactions simpler.

    Take care!

    Reply
  2. Jennifer says:

    Long time reader – first comment on here though. Which farmers market in Sacramento do you go to? Do you know where I can find a list of the ones available in the area?

    xo Jennifer
    seekingstyleblog@gmail.com

    Reply
    • Davida Douglas says:

      Alchemist CDC is operating CalFresh processing at the following farmers’ markets: • -Central, operating year-round on Sundays, 8-12, underneath the freeway at 8th and W Streets in Downtown Sacramento.
      • Florin Sears, operating year-round, 8-12, at the Florin Mall on Florin Road and 65th Street in Sacramento.
      • Inderkum, operating May-October, 9-12, at the Inderkum High School at 2500 New Market Drive in Sacramento (may be changing location this year).
      • NEW! Laguna Gateway, operating year-round, 8-12, at the corner of Laguna and Bighorn Boulevards in Elk Grove.
      -Starting April 7th: Sunrise Light Rail Station farmers’ market, operating year-round, 8-12 in Rancho Cordova.

      There are other farmers’ markets in Sacramento and Yolo County that also accept CalFresh:
      Sacramento County:
      -Oak Park Farmers’ Market (operating May-Oct) at McClatchy Park (5th Ave. and 35th St., Sacramento.
      - American River Ranch Farm Stand, (operating May-November) 2140 Chase Dr. Rancho Cordova, 8am-1pm.
      -Florin Farmers’ Market (year round) at 6601 65th St. @ Stockton Blvd. Sacramento. Mondays, Wednesdays & Saturdays 6am-8pm.

      Yolo County:
      *West Sacramento Farmers’ Market, Thursdays May through October, 4:00pm-8:00 pm, 1414 Merkley Ave., West Sacramento, CA 95691. 1414 Merkley Ave., West Sacramento, CA 95691.
      *Davis Farmers’ Markets, Saturdays year round, 8:00am – 1:00 pm. Wednesdays year round, 2-6 pm November through March, 4:30-8:30 pm March through October. Central Park, 4th and C Streets, Davis, CA 95605.
      *Woodland Farmers’ Market: Tuesdays May through September 4:30-7:00pm at Woodland Healthcare, 325 Cottonwood Street. Saturdays May through September 9am – 12pm at Freeman Park, 1001 Main.
      *Sutter Davis Hospital Farmers’ market: Thursdays, June through September,10 a.m. to 2 p.m., 2000 Sutter Place, Davis, CA 95616.

      Reply
      • Kimberly Morales says:

        Oh, this is fantastic information! , I’ll definitely be busy checking out all these (new to me) markets, especially the ones in Davis (I miss the main one there, but had no idea there were so many others!). Thank you so much for all that you & the fine folks at Alchemist do, Davida. Being able to continue shopping for produce at the farmer’s market, even while I’m in this situation, is so wonderful!

        Reply
  3. Vivienne Grainger says:

    Thank you so much for this post. Not merely for the how-to and the why-for, but also for the blast of simple good cheer in a trying situation. With your great attitude, you’ll get another job. Soon.

    Reply
  4. JoAnna says:

    We have a program in Metro Detroit called the “Double Bucks” where you can get twice the amount of “vouchers” if you spend them at a participating Farmer’s Mkt. So $20, will really buy $40 of produce/meat/vegetable plants/herbs/etc… It’s only available from May thru October, but it was quite sucessful.

    Reply
    • Davida Douglas says:

      Look for a similar program coming to farmers’ markets throughout Sacramento and Yolo Counties called Market Match. Most likely from May through September. Most ratios will be up to 50% extra buying power (i.e., spend $10 in CalFresh, get $5 more for fruits, vegetables and nuts at the market – or Spend $5 in CalFresh, get $2 more). Keep an eye on Alchemist CDC’s Web page for updates on this program: http://www.alchemistcdc.org.

      Reply
  5. Jenn says:

    I know you live that market but when oak park opens back up, they do the matching thing pp mentioned. Last year you swiped for $20 and got $40 in vouchers. Soil Birn farms by Cordova high school does $20 swipe gets ya $30. Though of course Central has the best selection, all the food vendors at oak park accept the tokens(as opposed to the check method at central). I am SO excited to hear about Lucky Dog Ranch. I will be going this sunday just for that reason. Thank you! Oh how much did they sell ground beef for? TJs is best deal I can find, though I really prefer Co-op for everything since they stock all local produce and all. :)

    Reply
  6. Emily says:

    I have been reading your blog for years, and finally feel compelled to post a comment, after benefiting from so many of your wonderful and thrifty recipes. I, too, recently lost my job through no fault of my own, and am receiving government assistance (unemployment) for the first, and hopefully last, time in my life. Your upbeat attitude and lemonade-from-lemons post is so uplifting! These are troubled times for so many hard-working people, and I’m so glad blogs like yours exist to remind us that we are not alone, and we can still enjoy life.

    Reply
  7. Maggie says:

    I hope you find some full time employment again soon! It’s awesome to hear about the farmers markets taking food stamps. I wasn’t sure if this would work in CA or with your health condition, but where I am in MD, you can work at some of the local farms for a Saturday morning, and then get a share of their CSA for ‘free’. Regardless, sounds like CA is a bit more bountiful than what we have going here, at least at this point of the year. 3 bunches of cilantro/$1 is awesome!

    Reply
  8. Donna W says:

    I was glad to read your story again, not so glad about your news. I am a long time reader, connecting through Sacconnect and have learned quite a bit from you. I recently became unemployed once again ~ and look forward to pushing my business and finding a new path myself. Glad we may connect.

    Reply
  9. wendyb964 says:

    Thank you for keeping it real! I, too, live near Sacra-tomato and try to purchase/grow what I can locally. It makes sense economically as well as for our world. Many of our hearts are with you re: EBT. It’s a harsh reminder of reality that one of six Americans does not have enough food, and that’s just one estimate. You are inspiring and cognizant of true nutritional “bang for your buck.” Why aren’t there mandatory (heck, you could teach!) classes on maximizing your nutrition: what one can do with one chicken, dried rice and beans! Add bits and pieces of whatever’s fresh and in the color of the rainbow, and a family of four can eat fairly well if not extravagantly/elegantly. This past year I’ve realized how wasteful I’ve been and how much happier divesting myself of a lot of cooking appliances as well as many household items. Now when I bake a cake or cookies I often tell the recipient, please keep the plate/tray or pass it on. Wishing you positive thoughts as you, too, deal with a chronic and invisible illness: it’s the pits but at least we are alive. Wish the newspaper or local magazines would give you a PAID column to increase awareness as well as your frank discussions and interesting uses for stretching our limited resources. hugs!

    Reply
  10. Susan Covey says:

    I recently wrote an article for my office news letter about using EBT at farmers’ markets. There is a page on the California Department of Social Services web site that has a search engine for locating vendors that accept EBT. You can search for all vendors in your town or zip. You can also narrow your search to farmers’ markets and restaurants that accept EBT in your area. SNAP/CalFresh recipients can also use their benefits to purchase food plants and seeds!

    Reply
  11. Amanda says:

    Thank you so much for this small article. It was very meaningful and uplifting . It helps foster discussion in the intersection of things I am passionate about organic food, and safety net programs.

    Reply

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