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IATP

I. Introduction

In 2009, the City of Minneapolis embarked on the Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, a collaboration between city government and the community aimed at expanding the production, distribution and consumption of locally grown foods. Among the recommendations made through the Homegrown process is to expand access to healthy, locally grown foods among low-income communities through increased use of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT, see definition at right) cards at Minneapolis farmers markets.

In response to that recommendation, the Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support contracted with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) to, among other things, conduct background research on EBT at farmers markets and assist interested markets in adopting EBT. The city and IATP are also partnering on the development of a campaign to promote the availability of EBT among EBT users.

IATP began the research process for this report in early 2010 by interviewing farmers market managers, nonprofit organizers, government employees and other experts locally and across the country to learn from their experience and perspectives. This analysis was also informed by one-on-one interviews with stakeholders from various cultural communities and neighborhoods near the Midtown, Municipal and Northeast Minneapolis farmers markets.

IATP also consulted a wide variety of reports and Web-based materials and reviewed research from interviews and focus groups with EBT users in Minneapolis and beyond. A list of interviews, materials reviewed and research findings are provided in Appendices I and II. We also drew insights from IATP’s experience piloting EBT at the Brian Coyle mini farmers market in the summer of 2009. The Homegrown Minneapolis Food Access working group has also provided frequent input.

EBT has been available at the Midtown Farmers Market since 2006 and will be launched at the Minneapolis Municipal Market and Northeast Farmers Market in July and August 2010, respectively.

These efforts will be bolstered by two initiatives aimed at increasing the visibility and utilization of EBT at these markets: a coordinated EBT promotional effort funded by Hennepin County and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Minnesota, and a pilot EBT incentive program (Market Bucks) funded by the city through the Communities Putting Prevention to Work initiative of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota.

The initial research summarized in this report will be complemented by an analysis in the fall of 2010 of lessons learned from the 2010 market season. IATP will also explore possible strategies, pros and cons of a coordinated EBT system for interested Minneapolis farmers markets.

In the findings below, we provide an overview of EBT, explore models from around the country, outline the steps involved in launching and running an EBT system, and explore key challenges and factors for success.

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