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Ohio State University Extension


Management of Nutrition Incentives at Farmers Markets

Community Development
Amanda Osborne, Educator, Community Development, Ohio State University Extension, Cuyahoga County
Christie Welch, Direct Food and Agricultural Marketing Specialist, The Ohio State University, South Centers

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) requires farmers markets interested in offering nutrition incentives to have the capacity to manage the funds and train market staff, volunteers, and vendors. Nutrition incentives support the purchase of fruits and vegetables by low-income consumers. These incentives are often distributed in the form of matching dollars, vouchers, coupons, or discounts (see for more information). Farmers market staff, volunteers, and vendors need to understand how customers access incentives and use them to purchase eligible products, how vendors are reimbursed, and what information must be reported to the sponsor or funder. In order to meet the requirements for offering nutrition incentives, farmers markets should use the best practices for training their staff, volunteers, and vendors.Sign promoting free $25 to spend on fruits and vegetables for customers who are eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits is set up on the ground at a farmers market.

Since SNAP benefits use federal funds, rules must be followed to reduce the risk of fraud while also allowing the greatest possible redemption by consumers. Markets accepting SNAP should be aware of these requirements. Depending on the source of the incentive funds, markets may need to mandate that the funds be used specifically to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables.

Training Farmers Market Staff and Volunteers

Most markets have a single staff member or volunteer processing SNAP transactions and distributing incentive tokens or other currencies. SNAP transactions often occur at one designated market location, such as a customer service booth. Staff managing this process should be trained to properly run SNAP transactions, calculate the appropriate incentive amount, and provide market currencies to the consumer. This training is usually provided by the market manager before the market season begins. Managers can help staff or volunteers understand:

  • how customers use SNAP cards at the market
  • what information should and should not be recorded for each transaction
  • how to calculate nutrition incentives
  • how to provide incentives to the customer
  • how customers use the incentives with vendors
  • what market items may be purchased with the incentives
  • how vendors return the incentives to the market for reimbursement

Farmers market staff and volunteers should understand how SNAP functions so they can clearly communicate the program’s advantages and requirements to customers. Printed materials can also educate customers about the proper use of SNAP incentives.

Markets should use two distinct tokens, one for SNAP funds and one for nutrition incentive funds. This helps the vendors identify and accept only the appropriate tokens for eligible items. For example, a market may have wooden tokens for SNAP funds and aluminum or plastic for incentive funds. Markets may also use varied sizes or colors to distinguish the tokens. In addition, SNAP token designs should include the market name, value (typically $1), and the wording, “no change given.” This ensures that only eligible food items are purchased and that the market maintains proper recordkeeping. Distinct token designs, sizes, and materials allow the market to accurately track SNAP and nutrition incentive purchases and balance the tokens redeemed with the tokens distributed (see for more information).

Regardless of the scrip or alternate currency used for SNAP and nutrition incentives, no change (cash or coin) should ever be given for any transaction. Instead, vendors should be trained to help customers make purchases to the nearest whole dollar. For example, if the items to be purchased total $5.50, the customer can use $5 in incentives plus 50 cents cash to make the purchase. Or the customer could use $6 of incentives to make the purchase, but they would not receive 50 cents in change. Helping customers and vendors understand that no change may be given is imperative for the proper (and legal) management of  SNAP and incentive funds.Overhead view displaying two green, metallic tokens, one showing the front of the token and one showing the back, above two larger wooden tokens with one showing the front that reads “Farmers Market” and one showing the back with the text “For Food Only; No Change Given,” along with a symbol indicating one dollar of value.

Training Market Vendors

Effective training of farmers market vendors is critical for the success of a nutrition incentive program. Well-trained vendors welcome customers, answer customer questions, are more invested in the success of the program, and lead to greater customer retention and higher incentive redemption. Many farmers markets have a preseason meeting where they inform vendors of what is planned for the season and share information about market rules and processes. A preseason meeting could provide training on a variety of topics:

  • vendors that accept SNAP benefits and nutrition incentives
  • how to interact with customers purchasing items with these benefits
  • what items may be purchased with the benefits
  • how vendors return the tokens or other currencies to the market for reimbursement

Providing vendors with a single-page flyer that outlines the program is a great tool. It could include images of the different tokens (SNAP, incentives, credit/debit) to help remind vendors which tokens may be used for which products.

Reimbursement Requirements

Farmers markets offering nutrition incentive programs need to create systems and processes for reimbursing their vendors for redeemed SNAP tokens and incentive tokens. To determine the frequency of reimbursements, markets should consider:

  • the vendors’ need for payment
  • the volume of incentives being redeemed
  • the capacity of the farmers market to process reimbursements

Vendor reimbursements can be processed weekly, biweekly, or monthly by cash or check. Vendors should receive a receipt for any SNAP or incentive tokens they turn in for reimbursement. Also, the market manager should record reimbursements in case any discrepancies need to be resolved.

Recordkeeping and Reporting Requirements

The Farmers Market Coalition recommends following its best practices on data collection and management of SNAP incentives.

Farmers markets benefit from maintaining a separate bank account where all SNAP and nutrition incentive funds are held. This simplifies recordkeeping and reporting. Recordkeeping should include:

  • total dollar amount of tokens on hand
  • value and type (SNAP, incentives, scrip) of incentives distributed per market day
  • value and type of incentives redeemed or returned per market day
  • value of incentives that are floating (have been distributed but have not been redeemed or returned)

(see for more information)

SNAP and federal nutrition incentive programs require detailed recordkeeping to avoid potential fraud. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) requires that markets accepting these federal food assistance benefits provide detailed audits of the use of these funds. The market should treat tokens and/or scrip the same as cash by keeping them in a secure location and accounting for all tokens in house and in circulation. According to the USDA SNAP Training Guide for Retailers, “You should retain all invoices for at least one-year for program eligibility and integrity purposes.”

Legal Agreements

Farmers markets often construct agreements between their organization and participating vendors. In general, the agreement establishes a clear understanding of liability regarding injuries, property damage, and any required licenses or permits. Agreements can also include a description of SNAP and nutrition incentive tokens and how they may be used. Because SNAP, WIC (Women Infants and Children) Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), and Seniors Farmer Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) benefits are federally funded, policies should be in place to help limit the potential for fraud. Part of this policy ensures that vendors understand who may accept the benefits and for what items. Many farmers markets include a statement in their vendor application requiring the vendor to follow all federal, state, and local laws and regulations. In addition to this statement, it is imperative that vendors are trained on the incentive program.

Farmers markets may also want to have a written agreement with organizations that offers incentive dollars for the program. This agreement may include the amount of the funds being supplied to the market for the program, when the incentive funds may expire, reporting requirements, and any other information the sponsoring organization requires.

It is also important to know that tokens distributed from SNAP benefits transactions do not expire. Farmers markets must maintain a balance of the dollar value of SNAP tokens in circulation and add this to the SNAP tokens that have not yet been spent at the market. This total should then be earmarked for possible future redemption. Nutrition incentives may or may not expire, depending on the source of the funds and what the market and sponsor agree to.

For more detailed information about managing incentive tokens/scrip, see the Center for Agriculture and Food Systems Farmers Market Legal Toolkit SNAP/EBT webpage at

According to the USDA SNAP Training Guide for Retailers, “As a SNAP retailer, you are legally responsible for your actions and the actions of everyone who works in your store, whether they are paid or not.” The guide is available for download at

For More Information

Visit the following resources to learn more about SNAP and nutrition incentives (matching dollars, vouchers, coupons, or discounts):

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Originally posted Oct 12, 2023.