Many people who depend upon SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) to help them afford food have a friend in the Olympia Farmers Market. The Market has been a leader from the time that farmer's markets were allowed to register with the state to be allowed to accept the federal SNAP funds. According to John Nason, Vice-President of Olympia Farmer's Market during an interview, the Olympia market was the first in the state to receive, and still use the effective number "1" in the program.
The "Fresh Bucks" matching program is much newer, having started with a federal grant only two years ago. The program that matches dollars spent with EBT food benefits with "fresh bucks" that can be used for locally grown fresh produce only started in 2018 after a federal grant was obtained through the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program. FINI was just one of the many components of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The Olympia Farmers Market has been offering "Fresh Bucks" which allow each SNAP shopper to receive a matching amount of the currency good at the locally grown fresh produce in the market since early 2018. According to Nason, the program started out with a $10 matching limit, but was quickly raised to $20 per market visit due to interest and to make sure that the grant funds were used during the prescribed amount of time.
In February 2020, the Fresh Bucks matching for EBT consumers is $60 per day. For each dollar, up to $60, a SNAP consumer will receive one "EBT Buck" which can be spent on any food item at participating vendors in the market, as well as one "Fresh Buck" for use limited to fresh local produce. So, for each dollar cashed out of a SNAP budget, there are two dollars to spend at the market!
The Olympia Farmers Market recently increased the amount of matching "Fresh Bucks" that an EBT recipient can receive at a time largely due to the limited hours that the market is open in the winter, says Nason. Although the market keeps the same hours of 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. all year round, it is only open on Saturday from January through March. Nason stated the current special limit of $60 per day matched is a promotion for the month of February.
In spite of the fact the program is working, allowing participants in SNAP to purchase double the nutritious food they could have obtained without it, the current program is only funded through March 2020. Nason stated that the federal grant funding that had provided the matching funds did not approve the Olympia market's proposal, instead, their next year's funding will be coming from a state source. Nason mentioned that other markets in the area have matching programs that are privately funded and as an organization they will be looking more into alternative funding sources for the programs that benefited SNAP recipients to the tune of $43,000 matched in 2019, a 35% increase from the previous year.
"At the Olympia Farmers Market, participation in our EBT/Fresh Bucks Match program has doubled in the last two years. There seems to be no limit on the number of EBT customers who are interested in doubling their EBT dollars at the Farmers Market. We will continue to seek out new funding streams to provide the opportunity for our customers to double their spending power and to access all of the locally grown, nutritious food that is available at our Farmers Market."
The Olympia Farmers Market is not a lone soldier in the fight against hunger and for nutritious options. Across the country, there are farmers markets as well as some supermarkets that participate in programs designed to increase the amount of nutritious food available. Click here to locate FINI participating grocers and markets in your area.
Get your Fresh Bucks matching dollars Saturday at Olympia Farmers Market!