The growing number of food stamp recipients has opened the door for increased sales for New York’s direct marketing growers.

“The economy has hit New York incredibly hard,” said Diane Eggert, executive director of the Farmers’ Market Federation of New York. “Food stamps are an opportunity for farmers, a valuable revenue source they may not have considered.”

The number of New York homes taking advantage of the food stamp program has climbed to 1.3 million, she said, an increase of 19% over 2008.

The federation plans to conduct a food stamp summit in connection with the Empire State Fruit and Vegetable Expo & Farmers’ Direct Marketing Conference in Syracuse, Jan. 26-27.

Registration for the expo is required to attend the summit, but the fee is nominal, Eggert said. Some growers might be unaware that the state provides terminals to handle the electronic benefits transfer cards distributed to food stamp recipients.

“It even has a pilot program for wireless terminals,” Eggert said.

The summit will be targeted to all direct marketing growers, from fruit stands to pick-your-own operations.

“The state also accepts community supported agriculture programs if they modify their payment structures,” Eggert said.

While some hothouse grower-shippers provide year-round availability, the fruit and vegetable season in New York traditionally begins about May 1, she said.

Another component in the federation’s program is a new Web site, www.snaptomarket.com, designed to help service providers educate food stamp recipients on the value of eating healthy foods and where to find them, Eggert said.