The Toledo Farmers' Market will begin accepting food stamps Saturday.
The program will be the first time food stamps, currently distributed only in electronic form, will be usable at a farmers' market in Ohio since the state discontinued paper food stamps more than seven years ago.
Organizers said the program should bring new customers to the market and provide low-income residents with low-cost, locally grown, healthy food.
"The big obstacle to overcome has been how to devise a system to where you can have one organization control it," said Dan Madigan, executive director of the Toledo Farmers' Market Association. "It's not a traditional retail-type environment that we're dealing with."
Under the system, which he said will be available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays, food stamp recipients will have their Ohio Direction Cards scanned at a location at the market, and be issued $3 scrips that can be used to purchase most itemsat the market. After shopping, they can return unused scrips and have the value replaced on their cards.
All vendors will accept the scrips, which will be printed on special paper and designed in a way to deter counterfeiting, Mr. Madigan said. They will not be usable on hot-prepared items or nonfood items.
Deb Ortiz-Flores, director of Lucas County Job and Family Services, said there are about 50,000 food stamp recipients in the county who receive $66 million in food stamps annually.
She said the machine used to process the cards is being provided by the federal government at no cost.
Mr. Madigan said the market will foot the bill for the scrip paper, other materials, processing, and accounting. He said the state will be updated on a monthly basis even though, because the system is electronic, updates will be available on a day-to-day basis.
Tina Skeldon Wozniak, president of the Lucas County Board of Commissioners, said that if the pilot program proves successful, the use of food stamps could be implemented at other farmers' markets across the state.
"It's an opportunity for people to have fresh and nutritious products," she said. "Oftentimes, when you go to the farmers' market you can get the nutritious products at a reduced price."
- Eric Lund