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Food stamps to be accepted at Bremerton Farmers Market

The Bremerton Farmers Market hopes to cater to a wider shopping base when it starts accepting food stamps in June.

The market, which opened Thursday at its location in Evergreen Park, already accommodates to shoppers who benefit from low-income and nutrition services such as the WIC, or Women, Infants and Children, and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.

But when it begins accepting Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, or EBT — the debit card-like replacement for food stamps — by the first week of June, market organizers and service agencies hope it will help bring fresh foods to the diets of low-income shoppers and help vendors reach customers they might not see otherwise.

“We’re just covering a wider base,” said Doug Millard, board president of the Bremerton Farmers Market and owner of Harlow Gardens, a Bremerton farm that will sell at the market later in the summer. “It allows us to sell to everybody.”

When Washington switched from a paper food coupon and check program to the EBT card for low-income shoppers about 10 years ago, EBT customers could no longer spend their food dollars at farmers markets because they didn’t have the technology to process the cards, said Jackie Aitchison, executive director of the Washington State Farmers Market Association. Last year, Bremerton market shoppers approached Aitchison to ask whether EBT cards were accepted.

“I know that there will be demand for it,” she said, adding that the EBT machines also accept regular credit and debit cards.

The EBT card acceptance began at 20 markets in Washington last year as part of a pilot program paid for by the state, with Poulsbo included as one of the test markets. Statewide, at least 10 percent of farmers market sales were processed through the card machines, Aitchison said.

Other markets throughout the state are trying to secure grant money to obtain EBT machines, while others, such as Bremerton’s, are trying to pay for the system on their own. The Bremerton Farmers Market received a donation from the Rotary Club of Bremerton to establish its own system.

The market continues to cater to clients of the federal Senior and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition programs. Rosemary Biggins, state program manager of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, said there is more demand for the service than what the program can pay for, serving 20 percent of eligible seniors. But for the seniors who do benefit from the program, it brings fresh food to the diets of those who would normally rely more on cheap canned goods, Biggins said.

“In this economy, it’s a privilege to have the means to purchase healthy, fresh food,” she said. “People aren’t really able to access healthy food.”

Millard said farmers markets already have a large low-income customer base and vendors do their best to provide for those shoppers. What really brings people to the market is the quality of the produce.

“People realize that the stuff is fresh, it’s good,” he said.

Cyndy Ayers, the WIC manager at Kitsap Community Resources, said beneficiaries of the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program free up their budgets to buy locally-grown food and experiment with foods they’ve never eaten before.

“People will come in for their next appointment and go, ‘I tried a rutabaga!’” Ayers said. “It’s exposing people and kids to food they might not already get. It makes it more fun.”

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The Bremerton Farm-ers Market will be open from 4 to 7 p.m. every Thursday until October 14 in Evergreen Park at 1400 Park Avenue.

For information on the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Pro-gram, call (360) 337-5700.

For more about the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program, call (360) 373-6221.

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