A special bus rolled into Warsaw and parked outside the tennis courts of Rappahannock Community College last Wednesday.
Inside, local farmers sat down at designated computer stations to register for a unique initiative.
They were signing up not only for a chance to grow their businesses, but also to supply healthy and nutritious foods to their less fortunate neighbors.
On July 24, producers of fruits and vegetables from the Northern Neck and beyond signed up through a workshop in Virginia State University (VSU)’s mobile laboratory to accept the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—formerly known as the Food Stamp program—at their roadside stands and local farmers’ markets.
VSU’s Small Farm Outreach Program, the United States Dept. of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Services and the Virginia Dept. of Social Services (VDSS) partnered together to give producers wireless card readers that they could use to accept SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer cards from customers.
The goal of the program is to not only assist small farmers, but also to reduce chronic food shortages and increase access to healthy food options for all Virginians.
William Crutchfield, Director of the Small Farm Outreach Program, said the initiative assists those farmers who would otherwise not have the wherewithal to purchase the wireless devices.
“So many of the local farmers are right there on the road or in the same community as people who are in the participating in the SNAP program,” Crutchfield added. “But they couldn’t sell to them because they couldn’t accept the cards.
“This is a win-win for everybody, and it helps our producers market their crops,” he noted.
Farmers who signed up in VSU’s mobile lab were authorized to accept SNAP cards by the USDA, while also receiving help from Small Farm Outreach representatives and Toni Blue Washington, who works within the Benefit Program Division of the VDSS.
“We’re really excited to have the opportunity to get them to sign up so we can have another option for our clients to have access to local produce, hence fruits and vegetables,” said Washington.
She added that the VDSS issued over $122 million per month, and over $1 billion per year, in SNAP benefits to participants.
“Think about that revenue that our small farms and farmers’ markets can tap into,” she said.
Last year, the State of Virginia was given $90,000 to assist with increasing access to SNAP markets. According to Washington, the grant was modified earlier this year to allow individual farmers to participate.
Each card reader that is given to farmers has a value of $1,000.
Washington said the VDSS is paying the fees associated with the devices.
Although the mobile lab left Warsaw that day at 3 p.m., Washington stressed that there are still opportunities for local farmers to sign up to give SNAP participants access to their produce.
To find out how, contact Washington at 804-726-7662 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Richmond County Dept. of Social Services is also partnering with the VSU program’s efforts and serving as regional contact. For more information, contact Director Claudette Henderson at 804-333-4088.