Just like I wrote, a while back, that I like to visit grocery stores in different areas – you know, just to see what they offer and how it differs from my own home store – I like to do the same for farmer’s markets. Whereas my market in Miami Beach had dragonfruit, lychee, plantains, cassava and limes galore; my market in Indiana had a thousand different kinds of corn (I’m Midwestern-raised. I like my corn!), zucchini, tons of apples and, really, all the leafy greens I could want.

This year, I got to add a new handful to my list, because New York City has so many (no, really – there are over 60!) Lots of the same stuff as my market in Indy, but here, they have something new that I’d never seen before.

No, it wasn’t a fruit, vegetable or meat, but it was just as compelling:

“Tokens accepted here! Food stamp (EBT)/Debit/Credit Tokens now welcome here. Choose fresh. Buy local. Use your card.”

Now, this was interesting. My farmer’s market in Miami was run by one individual who collected and distributed the produce for the farmers themselves. It simplified things, because that meant that one person handled the checkout. It was easy to just get a card swiper. However, my market in Indy wasn’t the same – 40 vendors, and very few of them bothered with cards. You were basically expected to arrive with cash. This, though? This was interesting.

As soon as I saw the sign (and it opened up my eyes), I took off running to an info booth where I could find out more information.

Here’s how the system works:

You go up to the information booth (even if your farmer’s market isn’t a part of a giant system such as the NYC Greenmarkets, it should have an info booth. Someone’s got to be putting it on.), card in hand. You tell them how much you want in tokens, in increments of $1s and $5s. They swipe your card and, upon approval, you are given your dollar amount in tokens. The difference between EBT tokens and credit/debit card tokens is the fact that debit/credit tokens can be exchanged for cash; EBT tokens can only have their value returned to the EBT card.

Your tokens act as cash at the market. With EBT tokens, you can purchase vegetables, dairy, fish, poultry, bread, fruits, baked goods like breads and muffins, jams and jellies, syrups, honey, seeds and meats. The tokens never expire, and can be saved for the next visit to the farmer’s market if one so chooses. At the end of the day, farmers exchange their tokens for cash at the information booth with the market’s manager.

You have to admit, this is a pretty ingenious way to do business. Finding a way to bring in card users and SNAP recipients only benefits the farmers that much more because its more money going into their pockets. Even better, it’s more money being spent locally in their own communities. What’s more, you also are encouraging (in some cases) the underprivileged to get in on all the fruit and veggie action – it’s much fresher, tastes better, is oftentimes less expensive and they can get tips from the farmers on how to actually cook their purchases.

Now, I’m curious – does your farmer’s market use this system for accepting card purchases? If not, what system do they use, if they have a system at all? (And if they don’t, feel free to send them this post!)

And, as always, visit LocalHarvest.org for more information on farmer’s markets near you!