Local farmers are designated among those providing essential operations in a stay-at-home order during the COVID-19 pandemic. They can still sell products — through a farmers’ market, a series of alternative delivery methods or through other outlets.
Many people across Indiana and the United States have experienced unemployment or occupational hardships related to COVID-19’s economic disruption. The National Conference of State Legislatures reported that the U.S. unemployment rate hit 4.4 percent in March. By April 10, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) said nearly 37.5 million people were using its food-purchasing assistance programs.
Adding the ability to accept purchases through these programs may seem cumbersome to local farmers, especially in challenging times. However, equipping your business to accept such purchases is a straightforward process — and in doing so, you can cultivate an additional market of customers and be a lifeline to those struggling with food security.
This article outlines the following:
- Definitions of different food-purchasing assistance programs
- How markets / stores / direct-sale farmers can apply to accept purchases through these programs
- Enhanced food-safety precautions to implement during the COVID-19 pandemic
Definitions of Common Food-Purchasing Assistance Programs
The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) administers the following food-purchasing assistance programs:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
- Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Woman, Infants, and Children (WIC)
SNAP provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budgets of families in need so they can purchase healthy foods and move toward self-sufficiency.
WIC provides federal grants to states that help provide supplemental foods for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women — as well as infants and children up to age 5 that are found to be at nutritional risk.
Applying to Accept SNAP Purchases
Before a farmers’ market can apply to accept SNAP purchases, the market master must create a USDA account. (Individual vendors and farmers submitting applications must be direct-market farmers, such as those in a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) franchise.)
An online form must then be completed and submitted — along with supporting documentation — within 30 days of creating the account.
To apply to accept SNAP purchases, market masters must provide the following:
- Date on which the market / stand opened under current ownership
- The market’s official name, mailing address and physical address (if different)
- The official name is those used on any legal documents, leases, contracts or incorporation documents
- A responsible official’s name, home address, Social Security number and date of birth
- If not a market master, this can be another supervisor / manager position
- Actual sales data from the market’s most recent IRS business tax return
- If the current owners haven’t owned the market for a full year, offer an annual sales estimate
- The market’s operating schedule (hours, days and months of operation)
- Business licenses held by the market (as applicable)
The following products can be purchased using SNAP:
- Dairy products
- Seeds and plants that produce food
- Beverages in sealed containers (not dispensed onsite)
- Non-alcoholic beverages
SNAP currently cannot be used to pay for online orders; however, this can be mitigated by accepting SNAP onsite.
Applying to Accept WIC Purchases
The WIC application process is separate from SNAP, and instructions can be found here.
Where SNAP applications fall to a farmers’ market master, applications to accept WIC purchases can be made by markets and farmers.
WIC items that can be purchased with market vouchers include:
- Fresh fruits
- Fresh vegetables
- Cut edible herbs
Farmers seeking to be approved must:
- Reside within Indiana or a bordering county of a neighboring state
- Grow a 51% majority of the produce offered for sale
- Attend a documented training session provided by a WIC-approved market master or the Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH)
- Send a completed application to the ISDH by September 30 of the current year
Markets seeking to be approved must:
- Determine a market manager or primary contact representative
- Host at least three produce growers who are WIC-approved (or willing to do so)
- Provide defined days and hours of operation at a permanent location
- Send a completed application to the Indiana State Department of Health by April 30 of the current year
WIC cannot be used to pay for online orders; however, one could order online from a grower or market and then pay in person upon pickup or delivery.
Those with further questions about WIC acceptance should visit the Food and Nutrition Service’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program websit
Food Safety / Handling Standards
Along with adhering to best practices in food safety and food handling, you should undertake additional measures to minimize the spread of COVID-19:
- Do not allow anyone at your market or stand who is showing signs of illness or who has had contact with someone sick / tested positive for COVID within the last two weeks
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend wearing cloth face coverings in a public setting
- For a guide on creating cloth face coverings, visit the CDC website
- Pack boxes in ways that prevent customers from touching one another’s products
- Stagger pickup times or practice no-contact delivery
- Undertake additional CDC cleaning and sanitation protocols and recommendations, such as
- Regular cleaning of contact surfaces
- Hand-washing or hand-sanitizer stations at your site
- Encouragement of customers to wash / sanitize their hands before handling produce
- Encouragement of social distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet between customers)
Laurynn Thieme, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Delaware County
Lindsey Cox, Community Wellness Coordinator, Purdue Extension – Delaware & Blackford Counties
Jeff Pell, Agriculture & Natural Resources Educator, Purdue Extension – Hendricks Count
Shelly Shrock, Shrock Family Farm, Selma, Ind. (Delaware County)