Nick Graver forwarded this article from the Rochester, NY Democrat and Chronicle of April 17, 2014. He mailed me a hardcopy of the article and from that I found a version of the story online. Thanks!
The Rochester Public Market's EBT Token program, established to bring healthier options to people on food stamps, has grown into the largest of its kind in the country.
Now in its fifth year, the program is giving thousands of SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients the purchasing power to eat healthy, fresh and local by using market tokens. The wooden coins are purchased with a food stamp card at the market office and is now accepted as currency by 120 vendors at the market year-round.
That brings the chance to purchase fruits, vegetables, meat, fish, cheese, baked goods, honey — even empanadas. Often, those on food stamps are forced to settle for the packaged convenience foods that are lower in price, but also lower in nutritional value, than fruits, vegetables and less processed cheese and meat.
Families gain access to healthier food while local farmers, in turn, gain more customers.
The token program is sponsored by the Friends of the Rochester Public Market, whose website describes the concept as "a simple solution to the complex problem of access to healthy and affordable food."
The program began with a card-based system, but swiping the cards at booths had glitches. The current system is deliberately low-tech — and effective. The EBT Token program has surpassed half a million dollars in annual sales. In 2013, 8,000 food stamp customers purchased $502,300 of fresh fruit and vegetables, and other healthy affordable foods.
As a result of the token program, 70 percent of participants report eating "a lot more" fruits and vegetables. They also report purchasing more fresh fruit for their children. And because the market's low prices help them stretch their food dollars, program participants are buying more and better quality foods, especially fresh produce. Sixty percent of participants say they shop at the market more frequently due to the tokens.
The online article unfortunately does not picture the tokens. From the hardcopy I see two "wooden nickel" type tokens in denominations of $1 and $5. An interesting retro back-to-the-future idea: simple wooden tokens working out better than the modern electronic cards.
Nick's fellow club member Bill Coe adds:
I mentioned the article about the wooden nickels at last Thursday's meeting. A few members were familiar with them. They are available only to SNAP participants. However, several thought if one were to go to the open-air market one could obtain them by offering face value ($1 & $5) to either the SNAP buyer or to the merchant who honors them. No information on who ordered them or from whom they were obtained. There are several wooden nickel makers around the country.
To read the complete article, see:
Wooden tokens open Rochester Public Market to poor
Wayne Homren, Editor
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