By Maura Hallam
Farmers market season is upon us — one of the pleasures of spring and summer here. Hundreds of people visit them each week, strolling past vendor booths, admiring the abundance of flowers and wares, and, of course, sampling the bounty of freshly harvested fruits and vegetables available for sale from local farms.
For too many low-income families, this kind of “farm to table” fresh produce is often out of reach. But in Washington state, that’s changing, thanks to a nearly $6 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded to the Washington State Department of Health (DOH).
The money, originally awarded to the DOH in 2015, is a four-year grant being used for the Washington Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI) Project, which works to improve the nutrition status of low-income households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by increasing their purchases of fruits and vegetables. The $5.86 million from the USDA is part of $31 million given by the federal agency to organizations across the country with programs that encourage SNAP participants to buy more fruits and vegetables. Washington was one of eight states to receive the large-scale FINI grant.
The FINI program provides cash incentives at the point of purchase in farmers markets through a program called “Fresh Bucks,” where farmers markets give bonus funds to SNAP shoppers when they buy fresh fruits and vegetables, up to $10 per visit. Originally pioneered in Seattle in 2012, similar pilot programs quickly expanded to Tacoma and Spokane as well as to Clark and Kitsap counties. The FINI Project funding awarded in 2015 expands programs like Fresh Bucks to more than 80 farmers markets in 18 counties statewide.
“We first worked with the Tacoma Farmers Markets to bring a Fresh Bucks program to Pierce County in 2014 and, although it was initially a small pilot program, it was very popular,” says Lori Tanner, Director of MultiCare’s Center for Healthy Living. The Center has partnered with local farmers markets for a number of years on initiatives to improve access to healthy food options in area communities. “The impact this award is having on our ability to help those who rely on SNAP make more healthful choices is obviously enormous. Not only are the Proctor and Tacoma markets able to support more low-income families for the whole farmers market season, but we’ll be able to expand the program to additional Pierce County communities.”
Fresh Bucks will expand to five additional Pierce County farmers market in 2017. See the list of all local farmers markets offering Fresh Bucks below.
MultiCare teamed up with the Proctor and Tacoma Farmers markets on the FINI application for Pierce County and together, we will receive almost $1 million over the four-year award to promote access to healthy fruits and vegetables to SNAP participants in Pierce County. Other organizations that have partnered with the Department of Health to make the FINI project possible include the Department of Social and Health Services; Safeway Foundation and Safeway Inc.; Washington State Farmers Market Association; UnitedHealthcare; University of Washington; and Washington State University Extension.
- Proctor Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 9am to 2pm from now through Dec. 16.
- Tacoma Farmers Markets has three seasonal locations, with the Broadway market opening today, May 4, 2017. Visit their website for the full schedule.
- Puyallup Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 9am – 2pm from now through Oct. 14.
- Gig Harbor Waterfront Farmers Market is open Thursdays from 3pm – 7pm from June 1 through Aug. 31.
- Orting Valley Farmers Market is open every Friday from 3pm to 7pm from June 9 through Sept. 1.
- Steilacoom Farmers Market is open Wednesday from 3pm – 7pm from June 14 through Aug. 30.
- Fife Farmers Market is open Fridays from 3pm – 7pm from June 16 through Aug. 25.