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Courtesy photoAn example of one of the SNAP benefits processing machines used at farmers markets in Oregon.

Keeping growers markets SNAPping after aid handling company bows out

Southern Oregon residents apparently will be able to continue using their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, formerly known as food stamps, at local growers markets, despite the pending closure of the company that processes benefit cards at the markets.

The company, Novo Dia Group, contracts with more than 1,700 — about 40 percent — of the farmers markets in the country to process SNAP benefits from cards into physical vouchers to be used at local farmers markets. NDG is the largest supplier of SNAP benefit processing equipment in the country, according to farmersmarketcoalition.org.

The processing equipment is necessary because individual sellers at farmers markets otherwise have no way to transfer the SNAP funds into their own accounts when making a sale.

The company’s withdrawal left 20 farmers markets in Oregon scrambling to avoid turning away SNAP shoppers. Two charitable organizations, the Oregon Food Bank and the Farmers Market Fund, teamed up to fund the cost of transition for the Oregon farmers markets that were affected. Together they are reaching out to each of the contracted farmers markets to help pay fees and purchase new hardware for a new SNAP processing contract.

Oregon Food Bank has committed up to $10,000 to the Farmers Market Fund to help with the changeover.

The transition was cushioned when the state of New York, in partnership with the New York Farmers Market Federation, agreed to help NDG stay in operation until the end of the 2018 season. That buys time for the markets to find solutions to the possible closure, according to Farmers Market Fund Program Director Molly Notarianni.

USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service decided to not renew NDG’s contract, but instead to use a different company, leaving NDG financially shaky. Notarianni said there’s a chance that the company would be bought out or enabled to continue business with the markets in some way, but as of now it’s unsure what will happen.

“This situation is changing quickly … and it’s unclear what the final outcome will be, there is the potential that those markets would have to transition,” Notarianni said. “But the benefit of that happening in the winter is that its not during the busiest time of the year, so it’s not going to have a big impact on the farmers.”

NDG uses processing machines, as opposed to iPads or the like; the machines can cost up to $900, which can put them out of reach for small farmers markets.

There are 130 farmers markets in Oregon and about 70 of them offer extra cash, some matching SNAP purchases dollar-for-dollar.

“We see in surveys … that for every SNAP dollar spent at the farmers market, it turns into $1.79 being infused into the local economy, so that’s a pretty large impact,” Notarianni said.

Aside from the potential impact on the economy, removing SNAP recipients’s benefit dollars from the markets would make it more challenging for them to purchase healthy, local foods.

“Nearly all SNAP shoppers at farmers markets tell us how important the program has been for them to eat more nutritious foods,” Notarianni said. “That’s why it’s so important for us to help markets continue accepting SNAP without interruption.”

The Farmers Market Fund, in partnership with Portland Farmers Market, provides low-income and elderly populations with increased access to healthy, local food and education about nutrition.

The Oregon Food Bank is a network food distribution organization serving Oregon and Washington counties, feeding about 740,000 a year.

The Rogue Valley Growers and Crafters Market is in Ashland from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the National Guard Armory, 1420 E. Main St., and from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays in the 100 block of Oak Street downtown. It’s also open from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays in Medford’s Hawthorne Park. The Rogue Valley market matches up to $10 of SNAP benefits.

Contact Daily Tidings reporter Caitlin Fowlkes at cfowlkes@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4496. Follow her on Twitter @cfowlkes6.

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