As the country faces the worst public health crisis of our lifetime and pandemic-related food insecurity is dire and widespread, MarketLink, a USDA grant program, is meeting the moment with technology that works for farmers, farmers markets, and food-insecure shoppers using SNAP/EBT benefits. MarketLink connects direct-market farmers and farmers markets with free, app-based equipment for accepting SNAP/EBT, credit and debit cards and other electronic payments.
Sales data from 2020 illustrates MarketLink’s positive impact on communities and local foodways: farmers markets and direct-market farmers using the MarketLink app (TotilPay Go) processed $12 million in SNAP/EBT, up 136% over 2019 and $5 million in credit/debit, up 75% over 2019.
USDA’s increase of SNAP/EBT allotments in response to pandemic-related food insecurity was a big driver of the record SNAP redemption at farmers markets and for farmers who sell directly to consumers. In total, SNAP shoppers spent $33 million on food purchased directly from farmers and ranchers from October 2019 to September 2020.
At a time when consumers' interest in where their food comes from is on the rise, MarketLink Project Manager Amy Crone is optimistic that the tools her organization provides will help foster stronger connections between consumers and farmers and bolster sales of fresh produce from local growers.
“The increased sales for farmers who sell directly to consumers could help offset their ongoing losses from COVID-19-related closures of other sales outlets. At the same time, the MarketLink-provided technology helps people in need purchase high-quality, locally grown food right from the source,” Crone said.
MarketLink is a program of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (NAFMNP). Through MarketLink, NAFMNP, together with Novo Dia Group, is connecting direct-market farmers and farmers markets with free app-based SNAP/EBT processing equipment (TotilPay Go). MarketLink also offers farmers and farmers markets options for integrated credit/debit payment processing via a partnership with Square – through which farmers took in $52 million in fiscal year 2020. In total, MarketLink-provided technology had a $22.5 million impact on farmers from October 2019 – December 2020 and more than $95 million since its inception in 2014.
Farmers, ranchers and farmers market administrators interested in MarketLink’s services and technology can find more information on the MarketLink website.
The quick, online MarketLink application is used to determine eligibility for the free equipment from the MarketLink program. In addition, MarketLink provides to farmers and farmers markets hands-on technical assistance with becoming USDA SNAP-authorized retailers and step-by-step guidance getting the app setup and running. This is a “bring your own device” program, which means applicants need their own smart device and data plan. For the first year, qualifying customers, get a free card reader (theirs to keep), free use of the TotilPay Go app and no transaction fees for SNAP/EBT. After the first year, use of the app is $191.40/year or $19.95/month and SNAP/EBT processing continues without transaction fees.