can you buy bird seed with food stamps

It started in 1998 with a bell pepper. Eliana (who asked us to use only her first name) was living with her kids in Pennsylvania and was newly separated from her partner. With a long-term disability, Eliana wasn’t able to drive, which meant her options for work were limited, and she had trouble finding a job. So she signed up for food stamps, as they were called at the time, what’s now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

Looking to stretch every dollar, Eliana scoured grocery stores for the best food she could find for her family. Some fruits and vegetables, like bell peppers, were just too expensive. But as a lifelong gardener, Eliana knew that if she could get her hands on some seeds and a decent plot of land, she could grow what she needed to make up the difference in her grocery haul.

It’s not a well-known fact, but SNAP benefits can be used to purchase seeds or plant starts. It’s not always easy to find a store that both accepts SNAP payments and sells seeds or seedlings, but Eliana was persistent. She even educated the retailers on occasion, as they didn’t know the benefits could be used to purchase seeds. “Usually, the cashier is shocked, most managers also,” Eliana says. “Ringing them up, [I watch] the looks on their faces.”

The USDA encourages SNAP participants to use their benefits to purchase seeds. According to the USDA, for every $1 that a gardener spends on seeds and fertilizer, they’ll reap about $25 worth of food. For someone relying on government assistance, that kind of return on investment is unbeatable.

And it’s not just big retailers that can accept SNAP, although Eliana notes that it’s harder to find seeds at smaller stores these days. Farmers’ markets and individual sellers can also accept SNAP benefits, something that retailer Stacy Wistock says surprises a lot of people.

“At least half, if not more, of my customers didn’t know that their benefits were good for purchasing food-producing plants,” says Wistock, who along with her husband, owns and operates Tosche Supply Company, a farm in Lorimor, Iowa.

When she decided to become a SNAP retailer at her local farmers’ market, Wistock says the training was easy. After filling out an application, she was sent a hand-held terminal that accepts EBT cards and had a short phone training session to learn all of the rules. Then, she proudly displayed the sign saying “We accept EBT” at her market booth and watched her customers light up, especially at the beginning of spring. “We did a lot of business with SNAP customers those first few weeks of the market. Ours starts before much produce is ready to harvest, so I think people had benefits to spend and not a lot of choices in what to buy.”

Wistock says tomato seedlings are always popular, but she also sells a lot of spinach, lettuce and chard starts in the spring. This year, she’s even branching out from the farmers’ market, trying to help the folks in her community, who have to drive more than 15 miles to the nearest grocery store.

“I’m going to be doing a roadside stand along the highway that runs in front of our house on Friday evenings,” Wistock says. “We live a mile away from a really low income community, so there may be people there that would benefit from being able to use their SNAP benefits so close to home.”

Having access to seeds and starts, either from stores, markets or seed catalogs, has helped Eliana through the years, as she’s remained on SNAP benefits for most of that time. She’s a gardening evangelist, sharing her love of growing her own food with everyone she meets. When asked about what she likes to grow, Eliana says it’s about much more than food. She grows plants for aesthetic reasons or to calm her spirit. “Even if you can’t do much, you can grow a tomato and oregano to feed the belly, zinnia or sunflowers to feed your eyes and soul, hibiscus and blue butterfly tea to feed a healthy future,” she says. “And then share it all.”

With a small plot or even a few balcony boxes, Eliana encourages everyone to use their SNAP benefits to buy seeds—and to plan ahead. At the beginning of the year, when seed catalogs first come out, she has fun planning her upcoming harvest. But she’s also learned to order seeds in advance, so she’s set for later in the year when the benefits are stretched tighter.

The issue that often pops up, however, is space. Many people using SNAP benefits also live in subsidized housing or have to abide by rules set by public housing authorities that don’t allow gardens. It’s a problem Eliana has encountered more than once over the years. “Many housing authorities, social security buildings, social services or welfare offices, even nursing homes, are surrounded by so much land. What would happen if they were used for gardens instead of grass?”

Eliana has shared her gardening passion with others for decades, and she says that most people she meets who also use SNAP don’t know that they can buy seeds with their benefits, although she is quick to tell them. “Teaching you to provide even a tomato for yourself, that can mean a lot to someone.”

Grocery stores, supermarkets, superstores like Walmart and Target, neighborhood food cooperatives, farmers markets, speciality shops, pharmacies, convenience stores, gas stations, and even Amazon are among the approximately 248,000 US retailers that take part in SNAP.

The initiative helps millions of people and families in the US by reducing food insecurity and enhancing general health outcomes. In 2023, a single person’s maximum SNAP benefit is $281, while in most states, a family of four can receive up to $939.

Though in the past food stamps were distributed as paper vouchers, those times are long gone. Currently, eligible food items can be purchased at participating retailers using an electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card, which is used to distribute SNAP benefits.

Eliana encourages everyone to use their SNAP benefits to purchase seeds—and to plan ahead—for a small plot or even a few balcony boxes. She enjoys planning her upcoming harvest when seed catalogs first appear at the beginning of the year. However, she’s also learned to order seeds ahead of time, so she’s prepared for later in the growing season when the benefits are more concentrated.

The USDA encourages SNAP participants to use their benefits to purchase seeds. According to the USDA, for every $1 that a gardener spends on seeds and fertilizer, they’ll reap about $25 worth of food. For someone relying on government assistance, that kind of return on investment is unbeatable.

However, Eliana points out that it’s becoming more difficult to find seeds at smaller stores these days, not just large retailers are able to accept SNAP. The fact that farmers’ markets and individual vendors are permitted to accept SNAP benefits surprises many people, according to retailer Stacy Wistock.

Despite her eagerness to inform them, Eliana, who has spent decades sharing her love of gardening with others, claims that most SNAP recipients she encounters are unaware that they can purchase seeds with their benefits. Teaching you to give someone even just a tomato can have a significant impact on their life. ”.

Unbeknownst to many, SNAP benefits can be used to buy plant starts or seeds. Finding a shop that sells seeds or seedlings and takes SNAP payments isn’t always simple, but Eliana didn’t give up. On occasion, she even informed the retailers because they were unaware that the benefits could be applied to the purchase of seeds. “Usually, the cashier is shocked, most managers also,” Eliana says. “Ringing them up, [I watch] the looks on their faces. ”.


Can I buy seeds with EBT in Texas?

You can buy food, seeds and plants to grow food. You can’t use SNAP to buy alcoholic drinks, tobacco products, hot food or any food sold to eat in the store.

Can you buy plants with EBT in Florida?

Seeds, plants, and trees that produce food intended for consumption (including those that are used to produce spices for use in cooking) by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) households may be purchased with SNAP benefits. This can include products such as cucumber seeds, tomato plants, and apple trees.

Can you buy vegetable seeds with EBT in Illinois?

If the places where you use SNAP benefits sell food-producing plants or seeds, then you can use your benefits to purchase those items. It should be as simple as that.

Why are tea bags not covered by EBT?

Tea, too, is limited to packaged and unbrewed because the USDA doesn’t allow SNAP funds to be used to buy any hot beverages.