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Farmers’ market may take plastic

Tue., Oct. 2, 2007

Food stamp recipients and credit- and debit-card users may be able to use plastic at the Spokane Farmers’ Market next year, a technological advancement funded by federal grant money.

The nonprofit Spokane Farmers’ Market Association, which will celebrate its 10th anniversary season next year, plans to use about $32,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement those payment methods, among other projects, said Treasurer Chrys Ostrander, project manager. Grant money also is slated to help fund a nutrition-information program at the market and promotional activities and advertising correlating with its anniversary celebration.

“Amazingly, we’ve operated 10 years without the ability for people with food stamps, EBT cards, to come to the market and buy stuff,” Ostrander said.

About 16 percent of Spokane County residents received food stamps in 2005, a roughly 4 percent increase from 2000, according to state data.

Customers will use their payment cards at a central station and receive tokens to give vendors, Ostrander said.

“That could be a big deal,” said vendor Steve Smoot, who sells flowers and vegetables. “A lot of what we sell are flowers, and those people, they’re not down there with their Quest (food stamp) cards, they’re down there with their credit cards.”

Deemed “Seedling to Sapling,” the project aims to boost vendor receipts 40 percent, increase operating revenues 20 percent and enlarge the number of vendors and customers, according to the grant application. In 2006, the farmer-run market averaged 20 vendors on Saturdays and had estimated gross receipts of approximately $400,000, according to the association.

The association also offered to use about $8,500 of its own money, Ostrander said.

“Despite impressive growth numbers, SFM is a small market in terms of number of vendors for an urban market in an area of comparable population despite the vast acreage of working, idle or under-producing agricultural land that surrounds Spokane for hundreds of miles,” the application states.

Ostrander said the market continues to have “really excellent seasons.” He asserted it can continue to add customers, opening more opportunities for new or existing farms to offer direct-to-market produce.

The local grant is one of 23 comprising $900,000 from the Farmers Market Promotion Program, according to the USDA.

“It’s not our first grant, but it’s our first sizable grant,” Ostrander said. “And it was a pretty competitive process.”

The market, 20 W. Second Ave., operates Saturdays and Wednesdays, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m., through October.

“Farmers markets are increasingly becoming a larger and more integral part of our rural and urban communities,” acting Agriculture Secretary Chuck Conner said in a prepared statement. “We support this community spirit that helps increase farmer revenues, and provides consumers with fresh, local farm products.”

While the market has had past nutrition-education efforts, Ostrander said, the grant will bankroll a permanent booth with staff to answer questions and inform people about the nutritional benefits of fresh, local produce.

Advertising efforts might incorporate new cloth market bags, T-shirts, yard signs, public radio and print advertising and a mini-documentary for TV, Ostrander said.

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