More than 100,000 households in South Carolina rely on the state’s food assistance program for proper nutrition, but the majority of them can’t use those dollars (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds, or SNAP) to buy fresh local food and support their local economy.
But it doesn’t have to be that way, according to Brendan Buttimer, the executive director of Hub City Farmer’s Market in Spartanburg. Hub City’s SNAP business has grown 800 percent in the last two years, and the market is number on in the state for connecting farmers to SNAP users, he said.
In fact, Hub City has done so well that the U.S. Department of Agriculture just awarded them a quarter of a million dollars to help the rest of the state do the same.
“In South Carolina, about one in four people are on SNAP, food stamps. It’s over $1 billion a year in benefits,” said Buttimer, noting Hub City received a matching grant in 2013 from United Way of Piedmont to effectively double SNAP benefits for users. “When we started looking at these numbers, we realized this was a huge opportunity for our farmers.”
In Spartanburg, SNAP redemptions make up about a quarter of weekly sales, he said, or about the same percentage as credit and debit card sales. With around 1,000 customers per week, the numbers really add up, he said.
Not only does that mean more low-income families are eating fresh fruits and vegetables, but local farmers have seen a healthy bump in sales, according to local farmer Jenni Callahan, who runs Harp and Shamrock Croft with her husband in Spartanburg.
“Instead of going to Walmart, they can take those funds and bring them right to the farmers,” said Callahan, who said SNAP redemptions can represent up to 15 percent of weekly sales. “Those funds are being allocated by the government, and they might as well be allocated to the local farmers. It’s a win-win.”
In 2002, the shift from paper vouchers to EBT cards for SNAP benefits had the unintended consequence of shutting famers markets out of the SNAP benefits program, said Buttimer. Today, around a third of South Carolina farmers’ markets accept SNAP, he said.
The Spartanburg market will receive around $88,000 to help grow the percentage and awareness of SNAP funds in the Upstate, while the rest will be passed to Eat Smart Move More South Carolina, said Buttimer. They will work to develop a business plan based on Hub City’s success, and then implement it in the Travelers Rest market as well as the Johns Island market in Charleston County, he said.
“Farmers’ markets have an opportunity to play an important role in the health of all South Carolinians by accepting SNAP, and providing fresh, affordable produce to the more than 52,000 SNAP recipients in these two counties alone, said Carrie Draper, Eat Smart Move More South Carolina director of policy and partnership development. “I think this work will help create better informed markets and increased access to these important community spaces for South Carolinians who shop with SNAP.”