For low-income individuals and families, getting enough healthy food can be extremely difficult. The relatively low price of processed food compared to fresh food makes it harder to afford fruit and vegetables. The Fresh Bucks program helps offset barriers to accessing nutritious food for people struggling with food insecurity.
Fresh Bucks, which matches Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars, increase the accessibility of fresh foods for Seattle’s most vulnerable residents. Anyone eligible for SNAP is also eligible for Fresh Bucks.
To take advantage of the program, SNAP recipients bring their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card to any of the 19 participating farmers markets and farm stands across Seattle, or to one of the 10 King County farmers markets that started accepting Fresh Bucks this year. At the information booth (or from the vendor at farm stands) recipients can get their SNAP money matched dollar for dollar in $2 increments, up to $10 per market per day.
Fresh Bucks can be used to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, herbs, mushrooms, or plant starts. They are redeemable at any participating farmers market, and do not expire until the end of each calendar year.
While most farmers markets participate seasonally, four Seattle markets also accept Fresh Bucks during the winter. As of 2015, the Ballard, Capitol Hill Broadway, West Seattle, and University District farmers markets have been accepting Fresh Bucks year-round.
In addition to increasing the power of low-income people to buy healthy, fresh produce, the Fresh Bucks program generates business that supports the local economy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that every SNAP dollar spent creates $1.79 in economic stimulus.
A similar fresh food SNAP matching program was first developed in Seattle by the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance in 2008. The program later expanded in partnership with the Office of Sustainability and Environment in 2012. The USDA’s Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant allowed for the growth of the program to more markets in 2015, including locations across King County.
This year, the Office of Sustainability and Environment began partnering with the Somali Health Board, Latino Community Fund, Horn of Africa Services, and Got Green to connect more communities of color and immigrant families to the Fresh Bucks program through peer-to-peer outreach. Information about the Fresh Bucks program is currently available in 13 different languages, including Chinese, Vietnamese, Tagalog, Korean, Khmer, and Lao.
In July, the City of Seattle launched a pilot program in partnership with Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic and Harborview Medical Center in which doctors can write prescriptions for fresh fruits and vegetables. Patients receive Fresh Bucks when they fill these prescriptions, which they can use to purchase fresh produce at participating farmers markets.
The innovative program, Fresh Bucks Rx, offers a new approach to tackling the social and economic causes of poor health that begin with food insecurity and nutrient-poor diets. The program also provides a reason for doctors to screen for food insecurity. This facilitates collection of data to improve our understanding of the severity of food insecurity in the Puget Sound region.
While the Fresh Bucks Rx program is still new and only available currently at Harborview and Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, it has been well received. The program is expected to expand to other community clinics in Seattle.
For questions about Fresh Bucks or Fresh Bucks Rx, contact Fresh Bucks Program Manager Robyn Kumar at [email protected] or (206) 386-4607. For running updates, visit https://www.facebook.com/FreshBucksSeattle/.