Running out of food is a real and growing problem for many in Seattle – in 2013, 12% of Seattle adults faced food hardship, up from only 6% in 2010. Seattle’s Fresh Bucks program is one solution to help those who struggle to afford enough food – especially enough healthy food – by doubling the purchasing power for low-income residents who use their federal food stamp (SNAP) benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at 30 participating Seattle & King County farmers markets and farm stands. Every dollar spent at a Seattle farmers market using food stamp benefits is matched, to purchase fresh, local produce. Fresh Bucks is a solution that helps low-income residents afford healthy foods, diversifies the customer base of farmers markets, and keeps federal food stamp dollars in our regional economy.
Food hardship affects many communities of color disproportionately, too: Hispanic adults were impacted almost three times more (29%) than white or Asian adults (10%); multiracial (20%), black (18%), and Native American/Alaska Native adults (17%) also experienced food hardship at disproportionate rates.
There are over 137,000 households in King County (almost 242,000 individuals) enrolled in the federal food stamp program (SNAP/EBT); this represents 23% of all SNAP/EBT recipients in Washington. While SNAP benefits are very effective in combating hunger and poverty, as well as improving short term and long term maternal and child health outcomes, and academic achievement for kids, millions of households across America still experience food insecurity. One of the reasons hunger persists is that SNAP benefits aren’t sufficient: the vast majority of benefits run out by the end of the second and third week of every month, leaving households without enough food.
In response to these conditions, in 2012 Seattle’s Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) and the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance (NFMA) created Fresh Bucks, a healthy food incentive program for low income shoppers at local farmers markets. In the first year of Fresh Bucks, NFMA’s EBT sales increased 86% over the prior year. The program grew in 2013, in partnership with the Washington State Farmers Market Association, to serve all Seattle farmers markets. In 2014, OSE partnered with the Washington State Department of Health to apply for a federal grant to expand Fresh Bucks to farmers markets throughout King County and around the State.
In 2016, the Fresh Bucks program grew countywide, with Fresh Bucks being offered at 30 participating farmers markets and farm stands in King County.
In 2016, low-income shoppers used Fresh Bucks at over 14,000 visits to the farmers market, a 12% increase over 2015. With the generous support of numerous community partners in Seattle and King County, and a federal grant in partnership with the WA State Department of Health, OSE is continuing to expand Fresh Bucks at farmers markets and farm stands, and innovating with new ways of getting healthy food to low-income residents at childcare and preschool sites, community centers, grocery stores, and health clinics. Fresh Bucks programming in Seattle is funded by the City of Seattle Sweetened Beverage Tax. King County Fresh Bucks programming outside Seattle is funded by a grant from King Conservation District and a USDA Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant administered by the Washington State Department of Health and King Conservation District. Fresh Bucks also receives funding from Pike Place Market Foundation and Seattle Children’s Foundation.
Since 2012, Fresh Bucks has helped thousands of low-income Seattle residents eat more fruits and vegetables. The combined economic impact of Fresh Bucks and EBT has brought nearly three-quarters of a million dollars directly to local farms.
*combined EBT and Fresh Bucks sales at participating markets
**Based on USDA SNAP multiplier (1.79)
***2015 survey data not available