Fresh Bucks program helps families afford farm-fresh foods
Farmers market season is upon us — one of the pleasures of spring and summer here in the Pacific Northwest. 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 been 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 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 for SNAP participants using their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets through a program called “Fresh Bucks.” When EBT users purchase EBT tokens from the farmers markets info booths, they receive bonus tokens to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. 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.
By September 2017, SNAP nutrition incentive programs operated in 79 farmers markets and 175 grocery stores across 30 counties in Washington. Uptake of the incentives has been promising: SNAP participants redeemed more than $850,000 worth of fruits and vegetables as a result of SNAP incentives. DOH and partners expect SNAP participants to redeem an additional $2.6 million FINI-funded SNAP incentives by March 2020 (end of the FINI grant).
MultiCare teamed up with the Proctor and Tacoma Farmers markets on the original FINI application for Pierce County and together, we will receive almost $1 million over the award period 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.
Two big changes to the Fresh Bucks program this Farmers Market season:
- The matching Fresh Bucks funds provided by the markets to EBT users was previously capped at $10 per visit. For this market season, however, there is no longer a cap for how many EBT dollars the market will match with the Fresh Bucks currency. Now an unlimited dollar-for-dollar match is provided for Fresh Bucks users to spend on fresh fruits and vegetables.
- MultiCare has introduced a new program: The Fresh Bucks Plus program. This program works with community leaders and organizations to reach out to SNAP participants who may not know about the Fresh Bucks program created by FINI. We provide participants with a voucher that can be redeemed for $10 worth of Fresh Bucks Plus dollars at any of the listed markets’ information booths, where they can also learn about the primary Fresh Bucks program and, hopefully, become regular users of the program.
Fresh Bucks are available and can be used at the following Pierce County Farmers Markets:
- Tuesdays — Eastside Market
- 3500 McKinley Ave. E, Tacoma
- June 4 to August 27, 3pm to 7pm
- Thursdays — Broadway Market
- 9th and Broadway, Downtown Tacoma
- May 2 to August 29, 10am to 3 pm
- September 5 to October 31, 10am to 2pm
- Saturdays — Proctor Market
- N 27th and N Proctor streets, Tacoma
- January 12 to December 14, 9am to 2pm
- Sundays — Ruston Market
- 5005 Ruston Way, Grand Plaza, Tacoma
- June 2 to September 29, 10am to 3pm
MultiCare Center for Healthy Living promotes the health and wellness of our community by helping individuals make healthy choices. We offer community programs and services for nutrition, weight management, healthy cooking, wellness and tobacco cessation, as well as free community health screenings and events.
Editor's note: This article was originally posted April 2015, and updated July 2019.
About The Author
Maura is an experienced writer and editor who writes extensively about health and wellness topics, from fitness and nutrition to medical insurance.
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