Tens of thousands of people in Baltimore who use food stamps to buy groceries can now do their shopping at the Baltimore Farmers' Market and Bazaar under the Jones Falls Expressway, thanks to a new token system launched Sunday.
Customers who don't have cash at the fresh-produce market off East Saratoga Street can now swipe their debit cards to make purchases as well.
At a public opening of the market's new welcome center, where debit and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits cards can now be swiped for market tokens, MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blaketouted the new system as a dual victory for local farmers and the approximately 190,000 people in the city who rely on the benefits.
"As a city that takes food access seriously, introducing SNAP benefits at Baltimore's largest farmers' market is one of the many strategies to improve health outcomes through increasing access to healthy, affordable food in the city while supporting our local farmers," Rawlings-Blake said in a statement.
Thirty-five farmers at the market accept the tokens, which customers receive by swiping their SNAP or debit cards on machines at the welcome center. Tokens come in $1 SNAP and $5 debit increments.
Aside from using SNAP benefits for fresh produce, beneficiaries of the program will also receive up to $10 in matching funds from the Baltimore Bucks program for food purchases.
About 30 percent of Baltimore residents receive SNAP benefits.
The welcome center was a public-private partnership made possible through financial support of various groups, including Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States, the Abell Foundation, the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation, the Baltimore Community Foundation, Maryland Hunger Solutions, the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the United States Department of Agriculture.
The market, which has been operating for 35 years, is open from 7 a.m. to noon Sundays between April 1 and Dec. 23.