Can Someone Use U.S. Food Stamps (SNAP) to Purchase Seeds, Trees?

UPDATE: This post remains very popular, but the government link mentioned below has change. To see exactly which items are covered by SNAP benefits (formerly called “food stamps”), please click here. As recently as 5 December 2011, the site indicated that SNAP can be used to purchase “Seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.”

Just this morning, Karen Russ (@scgardening) posted a U.S. government link on Twitter regarding the use of food stamps to purchase seeds and trees. According to Russ–who is cross-checking with individual states to be sure, it seems that as long as the food is intended for household consumption, one can use them in this manner. (Disclaimer: To be 100% positive on your state’s rules, double-check with the state office responsible for food stamp distribution.)

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24 Comments

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24 responses to “Can Someone Use U.S. Food Stamps (SNAP) to Purchase Seeds, Trees?

  1. Larry

    In Oklahoma you can buy veggie plants with foodstamps at grocery stores that set up greenhouses in the spring. I don’t know about the commercial greenhouses, I would ask before trying to buy plants from these type of places.

    • poprice

      Nice point of clarification, Larry. I’ll hazard a guess that it’s exclusively grocery stores that are sufficiently prepared to use stamps/cards. Still, for a lot of people, that’s great news.

  2. Christy

    I haven’t tried purchasing vegetable seed or plants here in Oregon with EBT, but the state website for SNAP info links to the USDA site. Will be interesting to see if large grocery-department stores with garden centers, like Fred Meyer’s, have this as an option or if it’s something that’s still being rolled out.

  3. I have first hand knowledge of being able to use food stamps (ebt or actual) for buying food producing plants and/or seeds in any venue that will accept the payment in both Illinois and Iowa. It’s been like this for many years. I know of people who did this back in the 80’s for tomato and pepper plants.

    One great thing is the fact that most stores that accept food stamps use an automated scan system. Well I should be completely honest – it can be great, like if they entered everything correctly -or- it could terrible, like if they forgot to enter the item in as food stamp eligible.

    But this makes things easier because you no longer have to depend on the cashier’s knowledge of what is acceptable for purchase on food stamps.

    I have had all my desired consumable seeds pass by and was able to purchase them A-OK with food stamps no problem. Then again I’ve had some not ring up as acceptable when they are sunflowers or herbs, and even a tomato plant once in an order with 10 others that did! I just pick my battles and decide which ones I want to fight or not.

    Sometimes it’s just not worth it. Like at a local store that told me not only could I not purchase consumable seeds but also a bottle of bay leaves from the herb/seasoning section. The manager at the time excuse was — that’s not allowed for people using food stamps. So what I’m not supposed to season my food??!! I, along with others, have changed the way that this store handles these types of transactions now. Not because we are greedy consumers, but because these are all acceptable uses of food stamps as defined on the sheets that each store gets when agreeing to accept these types of payments.

    Some alternatives to going to a local grocery or department store are: 1. Checking at a local farmer’s market, some vendors accept food stamp ebt cards and have starter plants available for purchase. 2. Talk to local businesses to see if they fully understand procedures. 3. Ask at the office where you signed up to receive the benefits to see if they have any idea where you can purchase the items your wanting. 4. Simply go shopping for the items your wanting to grow and buy them fresh, harvest the seeds yourself, then plant. It wouldn’t be successful 100% of the time or completely organic, but it is a way to do it =)

    And The Dinner Garden of course is another option – especially if your able to later donate back some of your surplus seeds you’ve collected for the next year! =)

    I’m truly sorry for posting such a large comment but this is something I am very passionate about (getting the word out on seeds/food stamps). I am a first time visitor to your site – got the link from The Dinner Garden’s facebook link post. I’m going to have a look around now =)

  4. Ok, this is my opinion. First I believe in the Lonestar/Wic /Swic programs. For those that really Deserve and need it. I have been on the accepting end for many years. The problem is that the system has been in effect for way to many generations and a Hell of of lot of abled body people are getting by with screwing the system. It seems it is no longer a (I just got Divorced, I Got five kids I need help until I can get on my feet and get a JOB.) Now unfortunately it has become (this one I know for a fact) I’m 14, she didn’t want to go to school any more. So she wanted to get preg. so she could get welfare/Wic and have 5 kids by 19 (just like her mother) so the welfare check is bigger than the get a job and work 40 hrs. income.
    Also there should be a reasonable list of food products that can be purchased. I’m all for the formula, milk, cheese,BABY cereal, fruit,& veggies.
    However did you know that a half of calf or $15.95 a pound shrimp can also be bought on lonestar?

    • poprice

      Honestly, Bob, if more people (and that’s not just folks who rely upon food stamps) would buy/prepare/eat half a calf or a pound of shrimp rather than a bag of Doritos or gosh-knows-what, I’d be okay with that. Because that’d mean folks are eating nourishing food and serving it to their families, helping us to raise healthier kids together.

      And that’s MY opinion.

    • Allison

      Ok. Not everyone who gets food stamps are lazy and just Living off the system. My husband is totally disabled. So I have to take care of him. It doesn’t mean we are lazy. I live in Oklahoma and you can buy seeds and plants to produce food at the super center walmarts. I’ve only ran into one manager that started to give me a hard time about it. But when I showed him the printout from the http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/ website he apologize and helped me with my purchase.

      • poprice

        Allison – I noticed this week that our local nursery had a note up reminding the cashiers the “rules” about buying edibles. I’m happy the gentleman apologized and became helpful to you.

  5. Now to complete my other comment, I think the seed program is a great Idea. Not only does it hopefully introduce children to very basic “where does food come from” Idea. It makes the parents work for what they get, Digging,raking,planting and hopefully passing on to the child that working for what you need is what needs to happen to change the system. I always wonder how many would stand in line to do say 20 hrs work cleaning our Rivers,Roads and Parks to get that Check/Card?????

    • darcy

      I don’t know about where you’re at, but here in Ohio I do 30 hours of community service a week to qualify for food stamps and medical for my children and myself. That works out to less than minimum wage, but right now it’s the best I can do. The meme of lazy welfare recipients wallowing in public excess is popular, but incorrect.

  6. Kevin

    I just bought several tomato plants and a couple pepper plants today at my Wal-Mart SuperCenter with my EBT card. I read about this some time ago and wasn’t sure that they would have these items coded correctly to allow the purchase. Hooray! they did.

    Now the other comment that I have to make is that I know that plant and seed purchases are supposed to be for “household use”; and I am not saying that I am going to do anything other than is allowed. BUT, why can’t a person who has the initiative to grow enough vegetables to sell lift himself out of poverty using his/her food stamps to buy the seed?

    • poprice

      That’s interesting, Kevin. I’m guessing the answer has to do with how the funds are allocated through the food-security geared system. If you’re genuinely interested in starting a seed business, for example, then you might be able to find small biz loans–either federal or local–for that purpose.

  7. Jennifer

    Hi, I’ve used EBT benefits to grow a vegetable garden for my family in NC. However, one problem that I’ve run up against is being limited in finding places to actual purchase plants/seeds. Walmart is about the only place around to buy actual plants that also accepts EBT, and the selection is usually somewhat limited. Our farmer’s market only has 5 vendors that accept EBT (it’s the state market, so it’s HUGE) and none of them sell plants or seeds…

    Anyway, I’ve been thinking about approaching the owners of a locally-owned hardware-store/garden supply store franchise to see if they’d be willing to go through the process to be able to accept EBT, and possibly even sponsor a community education workshop for people whom might benefit from growing their own produce while on EBT benefits. I’m wondering if anyone has ever had any success with approaching business owners like this before?

    Great post, and thanks for trying to get the word out on this. I only found it myself when digging around on the USDA website. No where in our required orientation about receiving EBT benefits did they ever mention this option, nor do most of the cashiers, etc. at stores know about this either.

  8. poprice

    No answer for you, but I wonder if there’s a local or regional grocery chain that you might be able to petition/educate.

    Thanks for the note.

  9. Check out http://www.SNAPGardens.org for more resources and history of gardening with food stamps, and please brainstorm with us!

  10. There is plenty of first generation food stamp recipients that are hard workers but just don’t have enough to get by!! Growing your own food is a great way to make the dollars stretch.

    • mw

      thank you, we are in the same boat. my husband does work full-time and i am stay at home/homeschooling mother. And i love gardening my own food.

  11. Chris

    A major Wal-mart (not a super wal-mart) in the center of RI would not let me buy seeds and plants with my snap card. They claimed the pricing structure was not set up to reconize them as food. And that it came from headquarters. I called my local DHS office and they were not much help either. What should I do to change this?

  12. Hi there, just wanted to tell you, I liked this post.

    It was inspiring. Keep on posting!

  13. distraught in georgia

    We ran into the same problem today. We went to Kmart thinking they would accept the EBT card but when we got to the counter to purchase our plants so we could have our own vegetables, they told us it would not go through. It was actually cheaper going there than Walmart, but now we are leary of weather or not to go back to Walmart and try to purchase them there.