- Jordan Barry ©️ Seven Days
Nurseries are reopening, and racks of seeds and seedlings are popping up at local grocery stores. It's a good time to remind Vermonters who receive 3SquaresVT benefits that they can use them not only to purchase groceries but also fruit, vegetable and herb starts, as well as seeds to grow in their backyards, containers or community gardens.
"Growing food from seeds and seedlings really makes SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] benefits stretch and last longer," said Ivy Enoch, food security specialist of South Burlington-based nonprofit Hunger Free Vermont. "It provides another way that people can choose to use their benefits to feed themselves — and helps provide a culturally responsive avenue to grow food, which is huge."
SNAP benefits have covered the purchase of food-producing seeds and seedlings for almost 50 years, since passage of the Agriculture and Consumer Protection Act of 1973.
The nearly 70,000 Vermonters who receive 3SquaresVT benefits — the state's name for SNAP — can shop for seeds and starts at more than 600 retailers and 40 farmers markets across the state.
Farmers markets are an especially good resource for gardeners, thanks to Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont's dollar-matching Crop Cash program, which offers up to $10 in additional benefits for market purchases.
"If folks are interested in growing food but they've never done it before, Crop Cash provides a bit of a safety net," Enoch said. "Someone can spend their EBT dollars on food they know and love," Enoch said, referring to SNAP's Electronic Benefit Transfer card, "then use that extra $10 to buy seeds or seedlings to experiment with."
As food and fuel costs increase and pandemic-era interest in gardening continues, "Different layers are peeling back," Enoch said, "and it's underscoring the value of growing our own food."