Carrboro Commons

Truck Bucks increase farmers’ market revenue

Posted on February 3rd, 2011 in Features,Food by jock

By Megan Gassaway
Carrboro Commons Staff Writer

James Henderson’s first stop at the Carrboro Farmers Market is not a produce stall or bread vendor. Instead, he heads to a small table and trades the swipe of a card for several wooden tokens.

Volunteer Natalie Shrader, 17, stands at the Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s table. She awaits customers in need of Truck Bucks, the common currency of the market that can be bought using debit, credit or EBT cards. Staff photo by Megan Gassaway

Henderson’s card is not the usual debit or credit card. Instead, he carries an Electronic Benefit Transfer card. The EBT system, implemented in 2004, is part of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (formerly the Food Stamp Program). The card allows users to pay for goods using their government benefits.

The tokens Henderson receives are “Truck Bucks,” the common currency of a program started May 1, 2010, that allows customers to pay for their Carrboro Farmers Market purchases using an EBT card or a debit or credit card instead of cash.

“Our original goal was to bring EBT to the program and to provide new revenue to farmers,” said Sarah Blacklin, manager of the Carrboro Farmers Market. “We are combining credit and debit with EBT to increase the revenue of the market.”

The market initiated the program with the support of Leaflight, an organization working for sustainable development that benefits communities, the state, nation and world, Blacklin said. Leaflight provides the market with a machine to read the cards, the tokens customers use as currency and an accounting system to track the spending, Blacklin said. A grant funded through Rural Advancement Foundation International – USA, along with support from the UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Public Health, provides additional program support and outreach.

From the program’s opening in May through December 2010, the farmers market saw over $56,000 in transactions through the machine, Blacklin said.

Of those transactions, 20 percent were with EBT cards while 80 percent were through credit and debit cards, Blacklin said.

“It’s mostly credit and debit users,” said Liz Greene, who has volunteered at the market since May. “But there always are EBT users every week.”

On Saturday, Jan. 29, Henderson was one of two individuals to pay using an EBT card. The 47-year-old construction worker has been coming to the market for two years. While he can sometimes pay with cash, construction jobs are scarce in the winter. The lack of work opportunities, and thereby income, qualifies Henderson for an EBT card.

The wooden tokens Henderson receives after a swipe of his card are differentiated from those given to individuals using debit or credit cards by writing on the back. While the fronts of the tokens bear the Truck Bucks logo, the backs denote the currency as specific to EBT users.

The differentiation is important because Truck Bucks are not universally accepted at the market — a map at the market’s welcome table marks the currency accepted by each vendor. Signs at each stall also mark the acceptable payment methods.

Volunteers Natalie Shrader and Liz Greene count the total Truck Bucks collected during a Saturday market. While EBT-users usually generate 20 percent of market revenue, during winter months, EBT usage is slow. Staff photo by Megan Gassaway

Henderson gathers his EBT Truck Bucks and strolls to the nearby Creedmoor, N.C., Brinkley Farms stall where he exchanges the tokens for a package of sausage.

Michael Brinkley, who mans the stall, takes the wooden coins without a pause.

“We’ve got a convenience factor,” Brinkley, 33, said about the use of Truck Bucks at the market. “It opens it up to people that didn’t think they could shop with us earlier.”

Truck Bucks have proven to be useful for all customers, not just EBT users.

“I had one woman – didn’t know she was out of money – but I told her about Truck Bucks and she went and got it,” Brinkley said. “And that’s money that wouldn’t have been spent at the market.”

Linda Leach of Pine Knot Farms in Hurdle Mills, N.C., sells sweet potatoes several stalls down from the Brinkley Farms table.

“I noticed that having the Truck Bucks is convenient for folk,” Leach said. “They are more readily available at making purchases when they have them in their hands.”

Like Brinkley Farms, Pine Knot Farms accepts both EBT Truck Bucks and credit and debit Truck Bucks. In fact, Leach did not realize there was a difference between the two tokens.

“We take them all the same,” Leach said, adding that the stall receives more debit and credit tokens than EBT ones.

On this Saturday in particular, the Carrboro Farmers Market trades $705 for Truck Bucks, Blacklin said. Of that total, $170 was paid via credit card and $475 was paid by debit card. Only $60 came from EBT users, Blacklin said.

Market traffic is generally slower in the winter, which leads to a lower percentage of customers using EBT cards, Blacklin said.

Whether individuals use EBT cards or charge the tokens to their debit or credit cards, Truck Bucks are certainly impacting the market.

“Our surveys show an increase in spending at the market from the program,” Blacklin said.

But nine months after its initiation, Truck Bucks remain supplementary.

“What we try to encourage is bringing your money,” Blacklin said. “We want this to be an additional resource for our community.”

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