When Mike Appel, owner of Three Springs Farm, became the first Oklahoma vendor to accept SNAP benefits at his farmers market stall, he was driven by a sense of social justice.
“Fresh, local fruits and vegetables – we want these to be accessible to everyone. It should not be dependent on your income,” says Appel, who has accepted the federal benefits for his goods since 2005.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which helps low-income families purchase food, has been around in some form for years, but many local farmers have only recently begun to accept SNAP as payment for fresh, locally grown goods.
The practice appears to be catching on across Oklahoma. Appel notes that since 2010, the Cherry Street Farmers Market in Tulsa, where he sells his produce, has instituted a market-wide acceptance of the benefits system, and has seen revenue dramatically increase. According to Appel, his revenue from SNAP alone grew from $3,000 in 2010 to nearly $17,000 in 2013.
In addition to these numbers, the Cherry Street market has raised private funds for a Double Up Food Bucks Program, in which the market matches up to $20 of SNAP benefits with additional tokens to be spent at the market.
“The Double Up Food Bucks, though, can only be used for fruits and vegetables, so it’s an incentive program to get people to eat fresh fruits and vegetables,” says Appel.
Even in markets without such mass coordination, more individual vendors have begun accepting SNAP benefits. Wanda Danley, coordinator of the Norman Farm Market, estimates that since SNAP was first accepted there three years ago, the number of vendors who accept the benefits has risen to nearly half, with the number increasing each year.
Danley ties this rise in participation to a generational shift.
“We are getting younger and younger people wanting to grow organically. I just think everybody is getting more and more aware of [the problems with] fast food and obesity,” she says.
Appel, for his part, is dedicated to spreading the word about healthy eating. The Cherry Street Farmers Market is using advertising to reach the 80,000 or so Tulsa area residents who qualify for SNAP assistance. Appel has evidence from years of satisfied customers that people of all income levels in Oklahoma are ready for fresh, healthy food.