With $4 million to spend, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is adding the ability to electronically accept food stamp benefits at more farmers markets.

Agriculture Undersecretary Kevin Concannon said the USDA wants improved access to fresh produce by Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) recipients at farmers markets.

“These grants increase the availability of fresh fruits and vegetables to SNAP customers and further encourage them to purchase and prepare healthy foods for their families using SNAP benefits,” Concannon said in a USDA news release.

With about 20% of every dollar spent on food stamps going to growers, he said the expansion in the ability of farmers markets to accept benefits is positive for both growers and consumers.

“Installing wireless technology at farmers markets expands the customer base for markets and increases the share of the SNAP dollar that goes directly back to local farmers and into local economies.”

The number of farmers markets accepting electronic food stamp benefits has increased in recent years, according to the release. Compared with 750 markets accepting SNAP in 2008, more than 3,200 farmers’ markets could redeem benefits in 2012. The list of farmers markets that accept SNAP benefits is available online.

The USDA has reviewed the progress of food stamp benefits at farmers markets in a report called “Nutrition Assistance at Farmers Markets: Understanding Current Operation.”

The cost of Electronic Benefit Transfer equipment, in addition to requirements for electricity and phone lines, slowed initial acceptance of electronic benefit cards for food stamp benefits at farmers markets, according to that report.

In 1994, almost 28% of farmers markets accepted the paper version of food stamps, but with the phase-in of electronic benefit cards in 2004, the proportion of farmers markets redeeming benefits slid to just 8%, according to the report. In 2010, only 0.2% of American consumer food dollars were spent at farmers markets, and only 0.01% of all SNAP benefits were accepted at farmers markets and farm stands, according to the USDA.

More details about the USDA’s program to fund farmers market implementation of electronic benefits is on the USDA website.