Farmers’ market to kick off season Thursday

Published 9:06 am Monday, May 14, 2012

Get ready for fresh treats once again.

The Austin Area Farmers’ Market kicks off its season Thursday, May 17 and will once again accept electronic benefits transfer (EBT) and offer Market Bucks for people who receive food support, thanks to a coordinated effort by the Market, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) and the Minnesota Farmers’ Market Association (MFMA). Last year, MFMA, with funding received through a Specialty Crop Grant from the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, installed point-of-sale terminals enabling participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to use EBT cards at the Richfield Farmers Market. As an added incentive for SNAP recipients to give the market a try and eat more fruits and vegetables, Blue Cross and MFMA are again offering “Market Bucks” coupons. Market Bucks provide a dollar-for-dollar match on EBT card purchases, up to $5 each market day. That amounts to $10 of food for $5.

Acceptance of SNAP and use of EBT at farmers markets is a growing trend in Minnesota. In addition to Austin’s two market locations, Blue Cross is supporting 23 other farmers market locations to promote the service this year — 12 in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and 11 additional suburban and rural markets. Only three urban markets offered the service two years ago.

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The positive results from the 16 market locations participating in the 2011 season led to Blue Cross’ expansion of the Market Bucks program this year. Combined highlights include:

—More than 2,300 individual customers used EBT, totaling about $68,000 in EBT sales and $23,000 in Market Bucks distributed; this represents more than a 200 percent increase in sales, customers and market bucks from the 2010 season results.

—Of those SNAP customers who had used EBT at least twice at participating farmers markets in 2011, 95 percent said they shop at the farmers market more often because they can use EBT there and 88 percent said they eat more fruits and vegetables because they can use EBT at the markets.

“This program has been very successful and we’re thrilled to be working with even more markets this year, introducing people to the healthy foods available to them at farmers markets,” says Dr. Marc Manley, chief prevention officer for Blue Cross. “Blue Cross invests in this effort because we care about the health of all Minnesotans. This work makes the healthy choice the easy choice, so we have a better chance at preventing unnecessary disease due to unhealthy eating.”

At a time when 63 percent of adult Minnesotans are overweight or obese — and at risk for a host of serious diseases and conditions that drive up health care costs — creative approaches to encourage healthy eating are urgently needed. According to a Blue Cross study, only 15 percent of Minnesota adults eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables daily. That means the vast majority of people are falling short of a balanced diet.

“We are so proud of our member markets who have dedicated their time and energy to providing EBT acceptance for the purchase of the healthy food options grown right in our own communities,” says Deonna Bouska, operations manager for MFMA.

“The Austin Area Farmers Markets are pleased to once again offer EBT and the Market Bucks program to residents,” said Heidi Harrabi, market manager. “Farmers Markets are really a community asset and this program is a positive in so many ways – it helps people eat healthy food and stretch their food budget, and it provides income for local growers.”

The Austin Area Farmers Markets location and hours are:

—Downtown, Thursdays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. (beginning May 17)

—Oak Park Mall, Saturdays from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. (beginning May 19)

—Oak Park Mall, Mondays from 3:30 to 6 p.m. (beginning May 21)

For more information about the Austin Area Farmers Market visit or locate on Facebook. Also, a copy of Blue Cross’ 2011 Electronic Benefit Transfer and Farmers Market Initiative Evaluation Report can be downloaded at

Correction: This article has been updated to list that the farmers market is also open from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m. on Saturdays. The Herald regrets this mistake.