Fresh produce in a SNAP

Farmers markets, health dept. join to help low-income residents eat better

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

Published:

 

The dollar is about to stretch a little further at some local farmers markets.

Clark County Public Health acquired several grants and is working with farmers markets in Vancouver, Salmon Creek and Camas to launch a new program called Fresh Match. The beneficiaries are low-income residents receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits.

Using the grant funds, the program will match every dollar spent with SNAP benefits (formerly known as federal food stamps) up to $5. In other words, the program turns $5 of SNAP benefits into $10 to be used to purchase fresh produce, breads, meats and dairy products at farmers markets.

If you go

Three area farmers markets are participating in the Fresh Match program this year.

• Camas Farmer’s Market, 3-7:30 p.m. Wednesdays through Oct. 10 on Fourth Avenue between Northeast Everett and Northeast Franklin streets in downtown Camas. Fresh Match program offered now.

• Vancouver Farmers Market, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 28 at Sixth and Esther streets in downtown Vancouver. Fresh Match program offered beginning in mid-July.

• Salmon Creek Farmers’ Market, 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays from July 12 through Sept. 27 at 1309 N.E. 134 St. in Salmon Creek.

The money cannot be used to purchase nonfood items or hot foods.

"We want to increase access to healthy foods," said Kachina Inman, prevention education coordinator with Clark County Public Health. "And by increasing places where people can use their EBT (electronic benefits) cards, that helps."

Here's how the program works. People with SNAP benefits take their electronic benefits cards to the market information booth and swipe their cards on the card machine. Customers are then given wooden tokens to use for purchases. Later, vendors exchange the tokens for money.

Clark County Public Health received a federal grant to pay for several programs related to access to healthy foods. Some of that money will be used to finance the Fresh Match program, and the county will also use grant money from Kaiser Permanente. New Seasons Market also awarded the markets with grants to support the program, said Theresa Cross, health educator for Clark County Public Health.

Each market has an allotted amount of match money. The Vancouver Farmers Market has $4,000 for the program; the other markets have $2,000 each. The Fresh Match program will continue at each market for as long as the money lasts, Cross said.

For the larger Vancouver market, that might be only a matter of weeks.

In 2011, the Vancouver Farmers Market had $26,006 in EBT transactions with the average transaction totaling about $20. This year, the market is exceeding those numbers nearly every week, said Jordan Boldt, executive director of the market.

Boldt hopes the grant funding will last four to six weeks. The market isn't offering the Fresh Match program yet, but Boldt expects the program will be up and running by mid-July, when produce season is at its peak.

"I'm anticipating it'll be a highly successful program," Boldt said. "My biggest concern is just going to be sustaining the program."

Boldt said he's already starting the search for corporate sponsors and local businesses who want to help keep the program running in the future.

In addition to the match program, the market plans to offer cooking classes through the Washington State University Extension office and will give produce to families so they can make the recipes at home, Boldt said.

The Fresh Match program was up and running for opening day of the Camas Farmer's Market on Wednesday. In one afternoon, the market had four SNAP customers purchase $95 worth of produce, plus the $20 in match dollars. In 2011, the market had 79 EBT transactions totaling $1,286, said market board member Carol Freedman.

"The participation hasn't been as high as we'd like," Freedman said. "We hope the incentive program will increase the number of people trying it."

The Camas market will also offer educational information such as cooking demonstrations and tutorials on proper food storage, she said.

The Salmon Creek Farmers' Market will offer the program when it opens in mid-July.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546; http://twitter.com/col_health;http://facebook.com/reporterharshman;marissa.harshman@columbian.com.