Fresh Bucks – Extra Buying Power for Low-Income Farmers Market Shoppers
It’s noon on a drizzly spring Sunday when Diane arrives at the farmers market. Diane has been using SNAP (formerly known as “food stamps”) and Fresh Bucks to shop at the farmers market ever since moving to Seattle a year ago.
“It’s pretty convenient and easy, now that it’s part of what I do,” says Diane, who visits the market here most Sundays and buys about $20 worth of produce, which ends up being about the right amount to last the week. But thanks to the Fresh Bucks program, administered by the City of Seattle, when Diane spends $10 of SNAP benefits on her EBT card, she gets $20 worth of high-quality produce. The program provides bonus dollars in the form of paper coupons, called Fresh Bucks, to EBT shoppers, as a 1-for-1 match for the EBT dollars they spend, up to $10 each visit.
“This is the kind of food I prefer, when I can afford it,” Diane says, looking around the stalls piled with vegetables and fruit, and the farmers who have brought their produce to the market today. “I am on Social Security and Fresh Bucks help me to stretch my food budget. Fresh Bucks is what brings me here. It makes the difference.”
When she was growing up in the south, Diane says, “Much of the food came straight from farmers, was fresh, and grown without harmful chemicals. But now, often you have to know where to go for this kind of food and learn about ways to make it more affordable on a limited budget.”
Farmers markets are the easiest way for many shoppers because of Fresh Bucks. “I find ingredients here that are much fresher and last longer than foods I buy at the grocery store,” she added. Today’s purchases include asparagus, apples, and salad greens.
For shoppers who may not have specific recipes in mind, as Diane does, farmers can be excellent sources of cooking ideas and tips, says Patrick Law, manager of the Capitol Hill farmers market in Seattle. “Farmers are usually happy to talk about how to prepare things at home.”
Patrick says this is a great time of year to visit a market because there is a bounty of fresh, spring crops and rainy spring days could be an opportunity to get a rainy-day bonus. “When farmers see you out here with them on a rainy day like this, they sometimes even throw in an extra piece of produce,” he says with a smile from under the market’s information tent. “It’s worth it.”
Diane agrees, “All of the farmers are so great when you use Fresh Bucks. It’s not like what happens at the store a lot of times, where some people make you feel weird about using EBT.”
All of the money EBT shoppers spend at farmers markets—what they spend from their own food stamp benefits as well as the Fresh Bucks matching dollars—goes directly to the local farmers who grew the food. This means low-income shoppers can afford to get excellent, healthy food to feed their families and they support their local economy and community at the same time.
For more information about Fresh Bucks at 32 farmers market locations in Seattle and King County, go to FreshBuckSeattle.org.
Contributor Robyn Kumar manages the Fresh Bucks Program for the City of Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment.