Health

LA farmers markets start signing up to accept food stamps

File: A flyer at the Hollywood Farmers Market advertises the Market Match program, which provides extra money to some EBT shoppers.
File: A flyer at the Hollywood Farmers Market advertises the Market Match program, which provides extra money to some EBT shoppers.
Katherine Davis-Young/KPCC

The number of farmers markets in Los Angeles seems to be on the rise, but the number of people who have access to their products wasn’t — until now.

A sign-up event was held Tuesday morning on the steps of L.A. City Hall to encourage local farmers markets to accept CalFresh EBT cards for payment, following a motion written by Councilman Jose Huizar and approved unanimously by the L.A. City Council last week that would make it mandatory for the produce-selling businesses to accept the electronic food stamps.

“The bottom line is this: There are several food deserts in the city of L.A. where people have a difficult time accessing fresh produce,” Huizar told KPCC. The lack of accessible fresh produce drives them to purchase other items that aren’t as healthy, he said.

According to Huizar, 8 million people across the country don’t have access to healthy produce.

“Here in the city, we’re trying to do our part to lessen that unfortunate, staggering number of people who go hungry each day,” he said.

Of the approximately 60 registered farmers markets in the city, Huizar said, only about 50 percent of them currently accept EBT cards — but that number is close to 100 percent following Tuesday's event, he said.

The most challenging part in convincing farmers markets to participate is their lack of understanding of the CalFresh program, Huizar said. Many attributed their unwillingness to participate to the lengthy and time-consuming application process, as well as the believe that it's expensive to receive the machine that makes it possible to accept EBT cards.

A typical wait time to become a SNAP retailer is 30 to 45 days, Huizar said — but it was done in two hours at Tuesday’s event. The machines were free and were provided by the California Department of Social Services.

After a dialogue was opened with the farmers markets, a large number of them volunteered to participate, he told KPCC.

“Once they get an understanding that it’s very easy to operate, they’re willing to do it, because they see more business at their farmers markets,” he said.

A final tally of farmers markets that will now accept food stamps wasn’t available yet.