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In Clark County, partners enhanced SNAP benefits (previously known as food stamps) and made farmers markets more sustainable. The Fresh Match program doubles the dollars for families using SNAP. Consumers swiping their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards at the farmers market get $1 for every $1 they spend, up to $5 per market visit.
As the coordinator of this program for Clark County Public Health, Tricia Mortell is excited about the outcomes. “We saw a 68% increase in transactions and a 41% increase in sales. The main benefit is that the increased sales help markets pay for the rental of the EBT equipment. This year we expect to do even better.” Incentive programs like Fresh Match can serve as an effective introduction to farmers markets for families that are forced to be very cost conscious. Mortell notes that it will take a continued effort to ensure that low income families become sustained farmers market shoppers. She feels it is worth the effort for many reasons. “Food habits start at a young age and visiting a farmers market is a great family outing,” she says. “Families can experience the arrival of seasonal produce, like when the first local strawberries arrive in the market. We need the EBT systems in place to allow families to access this benefit.”
To fund the initiative, Mortell reached out to potential partners in advance, so that arrangements fell quickly into place when funding opportunities arose. A Clark County Community Transformation Grant (CTG) through Washington State Department of Health supported the staff coordination, while Kaiser Family Foundation funding supported the marketing and information packets. The New Seasons Market funded the Fresh Match program because their business model includes strengthening the market for regional producers. Mortell comments, “New Seasons is a great business partner and interested in maintaining farmer base. They are incubators for new farmers, giving them opportunity for sales.” In time, New Seasons will also benefit from increased local supplies of fresh food for their customers.
There is growing evidence that food assistance initiatives lead to stronger regional economies. The US Department of Agriculture’s new report, Building a Healthy America, presents the latest research and analysis on the impact of SNAP in communities, including the economic multiplier effect: every $1 in new SNAP benefits generates up to $1.80 in economic activity.
Mortell explains that Clark County also looked at their regulations to reduce any unnecessary barriers for farmers. She says, “We had been meeting with market managers for a year to bridge the gap between the regulatory side and the access to healthy food side.” Because farmers were concerned about new food safety regulations, Mortell worked with other county staff to come up with user-friendly materials to explain the regulations and is currently looking for opportunities to reduce or modify county fees.
Clark County Public Health staff hosts monthly meetings with farmers market managers to help them work on marketing strategies like signage, flyers and postcards, further strengthening their sustainability. The team also suggests outreach strategies for increasing business from low income customers, such as contacting WIC Clinics and partnering with Washington State University Extension’s SNAP-Ed programs.
In a survey of farmers market customers using SNAP benefits, more than 90% of the customers reported that knowing that the market accepted SNAP benefits affected their decision to shop there. Also, more than 80% said they were influenced by the selection and quality of the fresh fruits and vegetables available. Nearly all participants said they planned to return.
Featured: June 2013
Tricia Mortell, Program Manager Chronic Disease Prevention, Clark County Public Health, 360-397-8000 x7211