Where wood makes green

Published: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

HIGH SPRINGS - The High Springs Farmers Market is trying out something new that could become a standard for the rest of the state.

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High Springs Farmers Market manager Sharon Yeago shows the tokens that can be used at the market recently.

Karen Voyles/The Gainesville Sun

For the past month, shoppers at the downtown market have been able to use their credit, debit and EBT cards to buy wooden tokens, a form of currency only redeemable at the market.

Vendors at the market said the wooden tokens are a great deal for them because it means they do not have to come up with a way to process cards and they are not watching potential customers wander away in search of an ATM.

"When people would ask where they could find an ATM, about half would come back later with cash and about half we wouldn't see again," market manager Sharon Yeago said.

"We know from where this is being done in other states that it is very successful," Yeago said.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture gave the High Springs market a grant to cover the $2,500 upfront costs for expenses such as the card scanner and tokens.

Federal officials said the goal is to encourage people, including those who use the EBT card that took the place of food stamps, to buy fresh, locally grown foods.

Before installing the wooden token system in High Springs, Yeago visited other areas already using the system.

"I visited a market in New Orleans that was about the same size as this one - about 15 to 20 vendors," Yeago said. "They were averaging $1,500 a week in token sales after they installed this system."

Longtime market vendors Maurice and Gertie Gainey said they appreciated being able to sell their fruits and vegetables in a market where the tokens are available.

"This is a big deal that will enhance the market," Maurice Gainey said.

Gertie Gainey said some of their customers struggled financially to make food purchases in cash, so being able to use an EBT card would make it possible for them to buy fresh.

"And it also means we don't have to take a chance on someone writing us a check," Gertie Gainey said.

Yeago said the USDA recently made another $1 million available for grants, so applications are being written to help other area markets start similar wooden token programs.

The tokens, which come in denominations starting at $1, may only be used at the market where they were purchased.

Karen Voyles can be reached at 352-359-5656 or kvoyles@gmail.com.

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