When the world shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people turned to food pantries and assistance programs to make ends meet. It wasn’t just the toilet paper that disappeared: it was our jobs, our families, and our safety nets. When it came to food, people had no choice but to take matters into their own hands. They sought out more direct forms of access at farmers markets and farm stands, and started their own gardens, whether in backyards, patios, or apartment windows.
But what many people don’t know is that SNAP benefits can help bridge the gap between relying on the store and relying on yourself! Since 1973, SNAP participants have been allowed to purchase garden seeds and plants that produce food for human consumption.
These Eligible food-producing items include:
- Seeds for producing edible plants and starter plants. This includes things like spinach seed, tomato seedlings, and even fruit trees!
- Edible food producing roots, bushes, and bulbs. This includes things like seed potatoes, blueberry bushes, asparagus crowns, and onion bulbs.
- Seeds and plants used to produce spices for use in cooking. This includes herbs like cilantro and basil seeds and plants.
One challenge might be finding a store that sells seeds and plants and also accepts SNAP benefits. You can use this SNAP retailer locator to find a local store in your community that accepts SNAP. Many grocery stores sell seeds and also have pop-up greenhouses in the spring and summer. Check with them to see if they accept SNAP benefits and when they plan to do their plant sale.
Or, better yet, if you have a farmers market in your community that accepts SNAP, plan a visit when the market is open in early spring to find tons of locally-grown bedding plants. Abundant Montana has a searchable directory of farmers markets across Montana and you can narrow your search using SNAP/EBT as a filter. Many of these markets also accept Double SNAP Dollars. Double SNAP will match your EBT spending up to $20 per day at participating markets, allowing you to stretch your budget further and buy food for today and plants that will provide for weeks to come. Find a Double SNAP Dollars farmers market today and start planning your garden shopping trip!
When visiting a farmers market, tap into the knowledge of a local farmer to get advice about which varieties grow best in your climate, how to plant and care for them, and when to harvest the bounty. If you don’t have a farmers market and are buying plants at the store, you can contact your county’s Master Gardener Program. Or, check out free written gardening guides from Montana State University Extension. They publish MontGuides on everything from growing tomatoes in Montana to harvesting and saving your own seed.
Good luck and happy gardening!