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Using SNAP Benefits to Grow Your Own Food

Posted by Nikki Salzman, Outreach Intern, USDA Food and Nutrition Service in Food and Nutrition Initiatives
Jul 06, 2011
A volunteer at the USDA People's Garden tends to Blossom and German Extra Hardy garlic.  The USDA through its People's Garden encourages everyone to grow their own food whether it's a couple of tomato plants or an acre of biointensively grown vegetables.  USDA photo by Lance Cheung
A volunteer at the USDA People's Garden tends to Blossom and German Extra Hardy garlic. The USDA through its People's Garden encourages everyone to grow their own food whether it's a couple of tomato plants or an acre of biointensively grown vegetables. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

Every month, more than 44 million people use SNAP to get nutritious food. Most of us probably imagine participants buying items like tomatoes, squash, and apples with their benefits. But did you know that SNAP can also help people grow their own food? With SNAP, participants can buy seeds and edible plants. It’s a great way to get fresh produce right at home! All SNAP retailers, including Farmers’ Markets, can sell seeds and plants to SNAP participants.

For every $1 dollar spent on seeds and fertilizer, home gardeners can grow an average of $25 worth of produce. Growing food from seeds and plants makes SNAP benefits last longer, allowing recipients to double the value of their benefits over time. Supplementing SNAP with homegrown food makes it possible for families to buy food products that they wouldn’t normally be able to afford.

Being producers as well as consumers is an empowering experience for SNAP participants. It allows them to feel self-reliant. It’s also another great way to promote nutrition, enabling people to take pride in eating their own homegrown fruits and vegetables.

At T.C. Williams High School students learn green gardening methods USDA photo
At T.C. Williams High School students learn green gardening methods USDA photo

Participants who have never gardened might be hesitant to take advantage of seed and plant benefits. Here’s how you can help folks get started:

  • Start community gardening classes and clubs to help neighbors support each other in creating and caring for a garden.
  • Host classes on how to grow small food bearing plants indoors and in small spaces like windowsills if you’re in an urban area.
  • Consider donating space to SNAP participants who do not have room for gardening if your organization has open land.
  • Encourage families to participate together. Growing food is an activity that can be fun for the whole family.
  • Create recipe books that incorporate the foods commonly grown in your community with the help of program participants.

For more information on SNAP benefits visit www.fns.usda.gov/snap

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Comments

Rose Miller
Jul 07, 2011

This is a great thing and I think that reciepients probably don't think of the fact that they could use their SNAP benefits to have food around throughout the winter. Thank you

Lorelee
Jul 11, 2011

Is this a change in policy? I didn't know this was an allowable expenditure and I work closely with SNAP receipients

Rachel
Jul 12, 2011

Loralee, I received food stamp benefits before and after it was called SNAP, and in those 7 years I was always able to buy food seeds and plants in places which accepted ebt food benefits. Many of the family services workers aren't trained on the topic, so don't even know that you can do that. As I understand it seeds have always been an option, but so few people use SNAP for seeds or plants that very few know you can. Many recipients as you probably know are urban or have never had a garden or been taught that you can grow food at home in your yard. More education is definitely needed in that area.

Daniel
Jul 13, 2011

@Rose Most people also don't realize that SNAP benefits roll over, month to month. So if people grow enough food in the garden in the summer months, they have more purchasing power to keep eating fruits and vegetables in the colder months. (And in some places, it's quite easy to garden year-round!)

@Lorelee These have been allowable purchase items since 1973. Check http://www.SNAPgardens.org for more information. SNAP Gardens cultivates awareness that SNAP benefits can buy food-producing plants and seeds and facilitates successful gardening experiences among SNAP recipients across America.

Jessica
Jul 14, 2011

I think that this is great! I believe that we should all grow our own food no matter how much money we make.

Cathy
Jul 25, 2011

how can we get the USDA to encourage the Landlord to give its tenants access to the water spickets for the tenants' enclosed unpaved patios?

Greg
Dec 21, 2011

It looks like SNAP is a great program. I don't buy seeds too much, but I do have a modest garden at home. Not enough to last me through a crisis though I'm sad to say.

Randy C Mack
Jun 11, 2012

To Daniel @rose "SNAP benefits roll over, month to month" My son had SNAP benefits that he had not used for one month and his worker called up complaining that the state has to pay interest on the unused benefits (to whom ?) and she would remove him if he did not use them. I think the worker was full of bull, but she was real nasty about it.

Helen
Jul 06, 2012

I wish I had known about the gardening 3 months ago. My garden is quite small this year but the saving would have been huge. what I spent on tomato and pepper plants plus the fertilizer was over $70.00, out of $200.00 each month I had to budget the garden supplys over a 2 month stretch. next year I'll add more above ground boxs and start searching this winter for stores that carry the plants and take snap. thank-you for doing the story in the Erie times this week.

Tom Tribbett
Nov 19, 2013

This is great! As a student in nursing school I can really see how an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Good nutrition can really keep people out of the doctors office. Not to mention I can see real potential with organizing a group of people on SNAP to take part in a SNAP funded community garden. This way they can grow all they need,while creating work for some individuals and any excees they could give back to the community, to food pantry's and such. Everybody wins.

Becky
Dec 29, 2013

Does anyone know of an online company that sells seeds or plants and accepts SNAP?

derek
Jun 07, 2014

We purchased our seeds, organic and heritage, from a dollar store. Tomatoes, peppers, lettuces,alot of them. Now to afford fertilizer and soil, pots wood to build,maybe pallets... Huh!

Kerry
Jun 07, 2014

In a group SNAP re-certification, if I heard correctly, SNAP benefits should be used within 185 days. I have never been told that I could buy seeds but I did buy a food plant last year and was surprised that it was paid by my EBT Food card. Now that I know and given a choice, I'd buy heirloom seeds!

As far as interest on unused SNAP benefits, at least a portion of it is Federal money. Maybe if it sits too long in an account, the state has to pay interest to the USDA for "using" the money?

Becky, I just bought a food plant at Trader Joe's yesterday. If a food plant is mis-coded as an ornamental, it won't go through as EBT eligible. I'm assuming it's the same for seeds.

Chris Walker
Jun 08, 2014

I am surprised that the government dos not make gardeners give forty percent of there harvest to people to lazy to grow a garden.

steve majercak
Feb 18, 2016

This is great. The only caveat being I am careful to only buy non monsanto seeds.

Jenny Bromback
Mar 13, 2018

This is the best part of my SNAP benefits. It empowers me. I am disabled and abhor the fact that I even need the benefits, but being able to do a little toward my own support by growing my own food takes a bit of the shame away for my silly ego ;). Potting soil and containers are still an issue for those of us on a limited income, but every seed paid for definitely helps. The store I went to today even had the SNAP logo on the blackberry and raspberry bushes I bought. I hope all SNAP employees are providing education about this excellent opportunity to all recipients. It would be a true shame if everyone didn't get the chance to feel empowered!

Suzy
Apr 02, 2018

How do we get stores like Kmart to honor this - they take SNAP for food but not veggie plants/seeds.

Ben Weaver
Apr 03, 2018

@Suzy - thank you for your comment. FNS can reach out to stores that are not accepting SNAP benefits for vegetable and fruit plants/seeds to clarify eligibility of these items under SNAP. Please send the specific location information to RPMDHQ-WEB@fns.usda.gov. If this is a corporate-wide issue, please indicate and we will reach out to the corporate headquarters.

Pattybowden
Apr 16, 2018

I used snap benefits to purchase seeds, but my rental home has no garden space. I used a little of my $ to purchase potting soil and used cans that bought food in to start and grow them. I also used snap to buy herbs. Some of those herbs are perineals, so they will continue to produce for years as long as I take care of them. I also cloned my basil and gave parts of it away to other snap beneficieries to show them how to stretch their food dollars. I plan to save the seeds from as many annuals as I can so that i can rwplant them next year without costing me anything. Thank you, SNAP!

Shelly Lyn
Nov 13, 2018

I love the idea of being able to buy seeds with snap.. In my community I would like to ne able to give some fresh vegetables at the food Bank we have once a month. Hopefully something different every month. I will start a ministry with my small garden for the youth to come and plant and harvest to take some home to there family..