Mobile payment company Square has ensured that farmers markets will continue to have access to an app widely used to redeem food stamp benefits.
The company announced on Jan. 30 that it would put $2 million into Novo Dia Group, maker of the Mobile Market+ app.
“Our investment will make sure Novo Dia can continue to support buyers and sellers in farmers market communities across the country,” said James Loftus, corporate development lead at Square.
According to Novo Dia, Mobile Market+ is used for more than 40 percent of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, redemptions at farmers markets.
It is the only mobile point-of-sale app certified by USDA for SNAP redemption.
And Novo Dia has been the only payment company that accepts Massachusetts’ Healthy Incentives Program, which gives SNAP clients additional money to spend on healthful foods.
SNAP recipients spent $22 million in benefits at farmers markets and farm markets nationwide in 2017.
From 2013 to 2018, Novo Dia benefited from a USDA program that offers free payment processing equipment to markets that are getting started accepting SNAP.
The organizations that won the contracts during that period subcontracted with Novo Dia to provide the smartphone software.
But the contractor that won the bid last year chose to offer a device reminiscent of brick-shaped payment terminals. It doesn’t use Novo Dia’s tech.
Novo Dia announced plans to shut down Mobile Market+ by the end of July 2018, at the height of market season.
A farmers market group agreed to prop it up through August, and New York — one of the top states for SNAP use at farmers markets — stepped in to fund the program through February.
Square’s investment completes the rescue mission, providing for Mobile Market+ in the long term.
After Square’s announcement, “we’re in good shape,” said Juliet Glass, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Farmers Market Association.
Most of the group’s markets use Novo Dia software.
Square, a big name in mobile payment processing that shares a CEO with Twitter, is itself not new to farmers markets.
“Many of the farmers in our markets are already using Square for debit and credit card transactions, and find the reporting and recordkeeping options to be helpful in tracking their sales,” said Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers Market Federation of New York.
Square’s investment gives certainty to farmers markets that already use Mobile Market+, and any that want to use it without the USDA startup subsidy.
But it doesn’t prevent USDA from selecting a vendor with yet another platform the next time the free-equipment contract comes up for bidding.
Such a change could send a new jolt of uncertainty into the farmers market world.
“Nothing has been done to address that kind of structural problem,” Glass said.