Farmers' market keeping food stamps local

ELIZABETHTOWN - People receiving public assistance in Essex County now have a local option when it comes to buying food.

The Adirondack Farmers' Market in Elizabethtown is now accepting food stamps, giving participants in the program the opportunity to buy local food.

Using their social services benefits, patrons can now purchase a wide variety of products, including fruits, vegetables, maple syrup, and packaged baked goods.

"It's pretty much anything that you can buy in the grocery stores," said Gina Agoney, the farmers' market manager who spearheaded the food stamp program in Elizabethtown.

To allow the use of food stamps, Agoney set up an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) machine at the weekly market. The handheld device looks similar to a credit card terminal.

Customers using food stamps swipe their benefit card in the machine and receive a number of wooden "dollar tokens" equal to their benefit. They can then use the tokens to pay vendors for certain products.

"When the farmers get enough (tokens), they come back to me and get them redeemed for cash," said Agoney.

Agoney said the system has been in place since late June, but has barely been utilized. Other public assistance programs, like those through the Essex County Office for the Aging or Women, Infants and Children programs have brought customers to the farmers' market.

"The people love it because they get their WIC coupons and they use them," said Agoney, noting how the New York State Farmers' Market Nutrition Program has encouraged more people to patronize local farmers.

"It gives more people the opportunity to buy fresh and local," she added. "There's a lot of stuff to enjoy down here."

The Elizabethtown Farmers' Market, located on Hand Avenue, is open every Friday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. It closes for the season following Oct. 9. For more information, contact Gina Agoney at 293-7877.

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