Fresh success: $5 match helps low-income shoppers at farmers markets

Grant-funded bonus of a $5 match helps low-income shoppers make the most of a stop at a local farmers market

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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Participating markets

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

• Camas Farmer’s Market, 3 to 7 p.m. Wednesdays through Oct. 10 on Fourth Avenue between Northeast Everett and Northeast Franklin streets in downtown Camas.

• 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.

• Salmon Creek Farmers’ Market, 3 to 7 p.m. Thursdays from July 11 through Sept. 26 at 1309 N.E. 134th St. in Salmon Creek; 2 to 6 p.m. Tuesdays July 9 through Sept. 24 at Legacy Salmon Creek Medical Center, 2211 N.E. 139th St.

photoShoppers grab cherries at the Camas Farmer's Market on opening day Wednesday. The Camas market, as well as the Vancouver and Salmon Creek markets, take part in the Fresh Match program that gives customers with food stamps an extra $5 to purchase fresh produce, breads, meats and dairy products.

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photoA sign at the Camas Farmer's Market advertises the market's participation in the Fresh Match program. The program is administered by Clark County Public Health and made possible by grants from New Seasons Market and Kaiser Permanente, and via the Affordable Care Act.

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photo"It helps in the long run when you're on a low income and don't have a lot of extra money to carry around. It'll make my money stretch farther." Marie Mueller, 62-year-old Camas resident who takes advantage of the Fresh Match program at the Camas Farmer's Market

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A program designed to help stretch the value of food stamps at farmers markets is up and running again this year after a successful 2012 launch.

The Fresh Match program, which benefits low-income people enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is again available at the Vancouver and Camas farmers markets. The program will also continue in Salmon Creek when that market opens next month.

Using grant money, the program matches 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.

In the first year, the program's three markets had 2,307 SNAP transactions worth a total of $43,866 (including $5,304 in Fresh Match dollars). That's an average of about $19 per transaction.

And if the program's first weekend at the Vancouver Farmers Market is any indication, it will experience a more successful second year. In the first two-day run at the Vancouver market (June 8-9), the program distributed $610 in match money -- 122 matches.

"That was a big day for us, Fresh Match-wise," said Jordan Boldt, executive director of the Vancouver market. "It caught us by surprise."

The Fresh Match program is paid for by a combination of grants from New Seasons Market and Kaiser Permanente, and the Affordable Care Act. Clark County Public Health administers the Kaiser and federal grants. The grants cover not only match funds but staffing and marketing support for the program.

Each year, the Camas and Salmon Creek markets receive $2,000 in match money. This year, the bigger Vancouver market received $5,000 -- $1,000 more than it was granted last year. The matches continue until the money runs out or the market closes for the year.

Bonus groceries

The Salmon Creek market didn't use all its Fresh Match money last year. So the remainder -- with a little extra help from New Seasons -- will buy a bonus bag of groceries for people who use SNAP benefits at the market this year, said Ann Foster, the market's organizer.

When the Camas market opened for the year on June 12, regular shopper Marie Mueller was there, ready to use the match for a second year. Mueller spent $25, including the $5 Fresh Match, on cartons of fresh blueberries and raspberries and some fresh bread.

The 62-year-old plans to go to the market every week for her fruits and veggies.

"It helps in the long run when you're on a low income and don't have a lot of extra money to carry around," the Camas resident said.

"It'll make my money stretch farther," she added.

Mueller wasn't the only customer looking forward to the program's return. Shannon Van Horn, Camas Farmer's Market board president, said people had been asking since the market ended last year whether the program would return.

"We love it," Van Horn said. "We're glad we got to do it again, and I hope we get to continue to do it each year and help that many more families."

Grants will keep Fresh Match running through 2014, said Theresa Cross, health educator for Clark County Public Health, but program organizers are still looking for a sustainable funding model.


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