Key Takeaways

  • Farmers markets are prime destinations for local fruits and vegetables harvested at the peak of growing season.

  • Thousands of farmers markets across the U.S. now accept SNAP EBT cards for eligible food items.

  • In addition to produce, dairy products, and meat, your SNAP dollars can be used to purchase seeds and seedlings at farmers markets.

Whether they’re held in the summer or year-round, farmers markets are prime destinations for organic, locally grown fruits and vegetables. With their often-higher prices, these markets were once inaccessible to older adults on a tight budget. But that’s all changing. American farmers have banded together with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in recent years to make fresh, seasonable produce available to everyone, regardless of economic status. Today, thousands of farmers markets across the nation accept SNAP EBT for eligible items.

What can I buy at the farmers market with SNAP?

Overflowing baskets of plump red tomatoes… cartons of ripe, juicy berries… the aroma of warm French baguettes. A visit to the farmers market is a treat for all the senses! And nearly everything at farmers markets is available for purchase with your SNAP dollars. This includes:

  • Fruits and vegetables
  • Fresh-baked breads
  • Fresh chicken and duck eggs
  • Artisan cheese and other dairy products
  • Hand-harvested honey
  • Meat, fish, and poultry
  • Ice cream and other desserts
  • Other small-batch foods, like handmade pasta

As with any store, you can’t use your SNAP EBT card for things like hot prepared foods, fresh flowers, artisanal soap, crafts, or alcoholic beverages.

Did you know you can by seeds and seedlings with SNAP benefits?

Many older adults don't realize their SNAP benefits can also be used to buy seeds and seedlings at participating farmers markets. Why is it a smart idea to buy seeds or starter plants with your SNAP dollars?

  • It can make your SNAP dollars go further, since a single plant can yield a significant amount of food for your household.
  • It’s easy to grow your own food whether you have a veggie garden in your backyard, a plot in your community garden, or window boxes in your high-rise apartment. 
  • Home-grown produce is fresh, delicious, and loaded with nutrition.
  • Growing your own food can be rewarding, and the act of gardening itself is a relaxing activity that’s good for the body, mind, and soul.

How to use EBT at a farmers market

When it comes to how they accept payment, all farmers markets do things a little differently. There are three main ways you can pay for food at farmers markets using SNAP EBT:

  • Scrip system: Many markets use their own unique currency system, which requires you to purchase tokens—or scrip—in advance. Scrip may be in the form of a paper receipt or tangible tokens. Farmers accept scrip as payment, just like cash.

    Although the scrip system may sound intimidating, it’s not as complicated as it seems. When you arrive at your local farmers market, look for an information table. Tell the person at the table that you’d like to use your SNAP EBT card to purchase food—and tell them how much you’d like to spend. The cashier will swipe your EBT card and then give you tokens to use—one token for every SNAP dollar. These tokens can’t be exchanged for cash if you purchase too many; however, you can keep them to use during a future trip to the farmers market.
  • Direct swipe: Other farmers markets use small, hand-held terminals that accept EBT cards. These terminals work much like the terminals at store checkouts. Look for signs at individual booths that say, "We accept EBT."
  • Alternative receipt system: At some markets, you shop for items first and then have the vendor/booth owner give you a receipt and set the items aside. When you're done shopping, you bring all your receipts to the information booth, pay using your SNAP EBT card, and then collect your purchases.

SNAP incentive programs at farmers markets

Some farmers markets may also participate in incentive programs designed to expand awareness and access to more households across the community. This includes "matching" programs where the market matches every dollar you spend there, up to a maximum of $10. For example, you may spend only $10 worth of your own SNAP dollars—but you're able to take home $20 worth of food. Not every farmers market takes part in these programs, but it's worth asking up front.

Why use your SNAP dollars at farmers markets?

If you’ve never visited a farmers market before, you may be wondering why they’ve become so popular in recent years. Here are a few reasons why these markets are a smart way to use your SNAP benefits.

  1. The freshest produce around: Farmers market fruits and vegetables are sold at the peak of growing season, when they look and taste their best. In fact, much of what you find there was harvested only hours before. This is in stark contrast to grocery-store produce that often spends days or weeks sitting on trucks or in warehouses.
  2. Always something new: From green zebra tomatoes and jicama to fennel and celeriac, you're likely to discover foods you don't normally encounter at traditional stores. Every trip to the farmers market is a culinary adventure.
  3. Vital support for local farmers: Today's small American farmers are struggling to survive. By shopping at farmers markets with your SNAP EBT card, you help keep them going while fueling the local economy.
  4. A great place to meet new people: Farmers markets bring together people from all over the community (and beyond). You'll find that many farmers enjoy talking about their produce—and they may even be willing to share a few growing tips with you!

How do I find farmers markets that accept EBT near me?

The USDA website provides lists of farmers markets nationwide that are authorized to accept SNAP benefits.

Do you qualify for SNAP assistance?

Many older adults who don’t think they’re eligible for benefits end up getting approved. One example is John Smith, age 70. Smith told NCOA that, after paying a big tax bill, he had no savings or income other than his monthly Social Security payment. When another person at his local senior center applied for SNAP and was successful, Smith decided to apply, too.

I was surprised at how easy it was to apply for SNAP and how quickly I started receiving my $200 benefit," Smith said.

NCOA offers a free, easy-to-use SNAP screening tool that can tell you if you qualify before you fill out a SNAP application. Visit BenefitsCheckUp.org/GetSNAP and select your state of residence to get started.