From the Field: Increasing Food Access through CSA by Megan French of Boundless Farmstead

This post was written by Megan French, Farmer of Boundless Farmstead. Thank you so much to Megan for sharing these experiences and resources.

First of all, beginning to accept SNAP/EBT on your farm is not challenging, it is just a bit time consuming and tedious. But never fear! There are a lot of really amazing resources. 

Just a few definitions to help get you started:

 

Accepting EBT on Farm

I would definitely start here: The CSA Farmer’s Nationwide Guide to Accepting SNAP/EBT Payments by Zenger Farm (I have attached the resource as a PDF). It is invaluable in this process and I recommend reading through the whole document thoroughly! I also recommend printing the document and having it next to you while filling out the application. This resource was written in 2013, but the information regarding applying with FNS is still relevant and extremely helpful. I would follow this part of the guide to a T (predominantly the info starting on page 15). 

To accept SNAP benefits through EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) you will first need to: 

  1. Apply for a USDA Account (this part only takes about a half hour)
  2. Apply with USDA FNS to become a “retailer.” The application takes about 30 min to 1 hour and the wait time for acceptance will probably be around two weeks (though it can take up to a month). You will either need a scanner, a smart phone, and/or will need to mail/fax documents in. You will also need a business license, a social security card, and a photo ID. 
  3. If you would like a mobile reader option for EBT, simultaneously apply with MarketLink or Oregon DHS (see instructions below)
  4. If you would like to match funds and apply for DUFB, simultaneously contact PACSAC (Portland Area CSA Coalition changing name to PNW CSA Coalition) (see instructions below). 

Mobile Reader and App Grant Funding

Using a mobile reader to accept SNAP through EBT is not mandatory. You can use the paper voucher system and mail in the vouchers for a check. I decided it made more sense to be able to run SNAP cards (like a credit card) for our farm, rather than mailing in vouchers (and potentially discovering a customer has insufficient funds). 

The caveat of using the mobile reader (which connects to your phone like a square reader) is that the reader is not free and neither is the service. So, you can either choose to pay for this service, or you can apply for grant funding. There are two options for applying for grant funding for this service. Here is a snippet of an email I received from Amanda Cross of the Oregon Farmers Market Association describing those options: 

There are two programs out there right now to provide free EBT equipment to farmers markets and direct marketing farmers:

  • The state program is with OR Department of Human Services, and is the one on the flyer you referenced. DHS did not have an application so that markets (or farmers) can easily ask for equipment. So I made a Google form to help collect the info needed and then I send that info to DHS on behalf of the market when they want to apply. (My form is here: https://forms.gle/oTsvesS2R5dy4iGb7) The people I’m working with at DHS are, Adam Rea (ADAM.J.REA@dhsoha.state.or.us) and Lucy Huffman (LUCY.HUFFMAN@dhsoha.state.or.us). In turn, they are in touch with Maurice Bill Walker at DHS who handles ordering the EBT equipment and the contracts. 

There are pluses & minuses to each program and I’ve started this MarketLink vs. Oregon DHS infosheet to try to illuminate the differences between them. You are welcome to copy and adapt this, and my google sign-up form, for farms if it’s helpful. And I’m happy to discuss more about the programs or how farms can sign up with DHS, feel free to send me your questions or we can schedule a time to talk too. 

 

Next Steps and what I decided to do

The MarketLink application requires a bit of going back and forth between documents, emails, and government websites. First, you apply to see if you are eligible for the grant (this process takes very little time). If so, you will receive confirmation and a Market Link ID number via email. Once you have that, you will need to wait to continue applying for the mobile reader/app until you have your FNS Approval Number (meaning until the government approves your application for SNAP). Once you have that number, you can continue the process with MarketLink. For this part of the process, you will need to provide your Federal ID number again (business license) and the bank account information you want to use in order for the organization to pay you. 

This is where it gets confusing. There are four different companies you will receive correspondence from in regards to the mobile reader/app. Here is the breakdown: 

  • MarketLink is only responsible for the grant; they help you apply for the app/mobile reader and help you receive the reader for free. 
  • Novo Dia Group (NDG) is the group responsible for handling payments; they accept the EBT and deposit the funds into your bank account. 
  • TotilPayGo is the phone app that NDG created for you to use to accept EBT. 
  • MobileMarket+ is NDG’s old app. When I applied this spring, correspondence was still being sent through that name and you may have to apply for an account here in order to use the TotilPayGo app. 

It is very confusing at first and I sat on the phone for awhile one day trying to figure it all out.  Hopefully they have made it less confusing by now. 

Once you get past all the applications and actually get the app and reader, it is actually very easy to use and our payments always come through. Also, the folks at Novo Dia Group have been very responsive.  

 

Double Up Food Bucks for your CSA (NOT at farmer’s markets)

If you are a vegetable farmer and have a CSA, you can apply to work with PNW CSA Coalition (PACSAC) to help your customers receive a $200 Double Up Food Bucks (DUFB) grant towards the cost of the CSA. You do not have to be able to take CSA to work with this organization, so skip all that headache above if you only want to use SNAP for your CSA. 

I just received an email from Holly at PACSAC today. Here is a copy of that email: 

We have DUFB funding through 2023, and are already working on our plan for after that.

Small caveat (maybe it’s a big one, dunno) — you need to join our org and we need to do the SNAP processing for your members.  The reason why is that DUFB is tied to SNAP: a member can’t get more DUFB than they pay in SNAP, so if, for example, a member can only pay a portion of their monthly fee because they have run out of benefits, they will only get part of their DUFB allocation, and we keep a running database on how much DUFB is left.

I’m attaching last year’s documentation so you can get a feeling for what it entails.  We haven’t done 2021 yet but it will be nearly identical.  Registration to join PACSAC will be out next week so join our listserv here to get notification.

 

FAQs: SNAP and DUFB

Get set up to process SNAP (this is a checklist on having PACSAC process your SNAP/DUFB members)

This looks like a wonderful opportunity, and they are very excited to work with folks all over the state. The fees for this service are: 

  • Membership fee of between $50 and $200 sliding scale
  • $10 per CSA customer utilizing the service. 

The way the relationship works between your farm, PACSAC, and your customer is (from PACSAC website): 

  1. Member joins your CSA, fills out whatever paperwork/website you use.
  2. When you fill out our online form, we automatically email a SNAP Processing Agreement to the member with all your pricing and farm information pre-filled. We also CC you on this email so that you have a record of that agreement.
  3. The member has 7 days to print, sign, and mail this agreement to the Coalition. We will remind your member by email after 7 days. 
  4. After we receive the agreement, we will begin processing their SNAP payments. Assuming there are no issues with the member’s SNAP benefits, your member will not hear from the Coalition again. It will seem like automatic bill pay, with payments coming out of the member’s SNAP account on the day their benefits are issued.
  5. If we do have a problem processing your member’s payment, we will contact your member directly to resolve the problem. If they aren’t responding, we will ask for your help.

 

Other CSA accessibility ideas and resources

Here are some additional resources to consider when thinking about food accessibility and your CSA/Market presence. 

 

Ok, that’s all I have for now folks. If you have any questions, send them my way and I will try to help you out! 

Megan’s Email: info@boundlessfarmstead.com

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