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Produce Aplenty

The farmers' market at the Community Food Bank now takes food stamps.

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The new "We accept food stamps" sign at the farmers' market at the Community Food Bank is a welcome sight to shoppers like Breezie Peña.

She says the new policy will allow her to get more produce for herself and her two small boys. They'll also be eating more organically grown food, which she cannot afford at retail rates.

Sherry Carter, who volunteers at the Food Bank as part of a job training program, noted she likes buying at the farmers' market because it benefits the local community and the food is of a higher quality. Carter was the second shopper on Feb. 4, the day the new policy was implemented, to use her food stamps card; her $22 produce purchase filled a crate and included items grown by local growers and by gardeners at the Food Bank.

Hallway Redmond, an 83-year-old farmer, switched to organic farming methods three years ago when he began participating in the Food Bank's market. But until now, low-income consumers who needed to make all of their purchases with food stamps missed out on his fresh spinach, lettuce, beets and peas.

Kelly Watters, market coordinator for the Food Bank, said that the wireless device that scans the food stamps card, the Electronic Benefits Transfer card, was provided by a collaborative effort between the Community Action Agency, the Department of Economic Security and Community Food Connections in Phoenix.

"This pilot program is part of a larger effort of farmers' markets to make their produce more accessible to low-income people," said Watters.

An earlier initiative, the Arizona Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, began issuing vouchers in June 2002 which allow seniors and those receiving WIC (Women, Infants and Children) benefits to purchase some locally grown produce.

Other farmers' markets will soon be able to accept food stamps as well. The Downtown Farmers' Market accepts the WIC vouchers already, and expects to be taking food stamps within a month, said Alan Ward, the market manager.

"(The wireless device is) beneficial for the market in all regards," said Ward.

The Rincon Valley Farmers' Market will also apply for a card-scanning device, said Molly Eglin, its founder and executive director. Manish Shah, who coordinates the farmers' market at St. Phillip's Plaza, said that market will take food stamps if they get requests.

The 17th Street Farmers Market is an indoor, privately owned business that already takes food stamps.

From the Food Bank's farmers' market, it is only a short walk to the garden that not only provides produce for sale, but also serves as a teaching tool.

"Selling seeds and seedlings at the market is part of helping people become more self-sufficient," said Varga Garland, director of the Food Security Center at the Food Bank. The center's role is to help develop food security so people always have sufficient income and resources to be food self-sufficient without using emergency sources.

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