On any given day in and around Los Angeles, more than half a dozen farmers markets pop up to cater to crowds of Angelenos in search of heirloom Cherokee Purple tomatoes, cilantro hummus, chili-lime cashews or a dozen eggs from a small family run poultry farm. Not to mention more prosaic fruits, vegetables, breads and other fresh-food staples.
Los Angeles does love its farmers markets — but not all Angelenos can use them. Of the approximately 60 certified markets in Los Angeles, only about half accept the modern version of food stamps, Electronic Benefit Transfer cards. There's something terribly wrong when Jack in the Box and corner liquor stores eagerly accept EBT, but a farmers market does not.
The Los Angeles City Council is trying to rectify that and has asked the public works staff and city attorney to figure out how to make that happen by the end of this month. Farmers markets serving the public, especially those operating on public land or in the public right of way, really should serve all of the public. And although it would be preferable for city leaders to persuade markets to accept EBT rather than coercing them to do so, a mandate along those lines would nevertheless seem to benefit everyone.
While accepting EBT does require extra effort, the operating costs are negligible. The state provides the electronic card readers, and even pays for wireless access if needed. And accepting EBT wouldn't reduce the vendors' profits, given that an EBT dollar has the same value as a dollar bill.
Market managers may have to work a little harder because they typically would be the ones to operate the EBT card reader, hand out scrip to spend at the booths and reimburse the vendors. But if the result is more customers, that's a problem most businesses wouldn't mind having. And it's not as if farmers markets are regulatory-free zones. Operators must obtain permits and vendors must be certified as real farmers selling produce grown in state.
Tellingly, the council's proposal is supported by Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, which operates seven farmers markets in L.A. including Hollywood, Echo Park and Watts. All of them accept EBT and don't seem to suffer for it. Also on board are the Los Angeles Food Policy Council and the L.A. Community Action Network.
It's hard enough for low-income Angelenos to obtain nutritious groceries, with wide swaths of the city virtual healthy-food deserts. They shouldn't be cut off from the few oases of reasonably priced, healthy and local produce.