Farmers markets: Not just about the $12 tomato

Shoppers at the Columbia City Farmers Market.
Shoppers at the Columbia City Farmers Market.

Farmers markets are sometimes perceived as a great way to buy fresh produce – if you have a lot of disposable income. But in King County, they are a symbol of public health and sustainability. At Public Health, we touch farmers markets in a number of ways, from food safety oversight to creating infrastructure that helps everyone  access locally grown and healthy foods and contribute to our local economy.

WIC (Women, Infants, Children), a nationwide nutrition program, provides funding to states so that moms and babies can get supplemental foods and nutrition education. WIC clients receive services at one of our ten Public Health clinics, and in the summer, they receive a one-time voucher that can be used at farmers markets to buy fruits and vegetables.

Last year this voucher, which ranges in value from $20-40, was used by about 5,000 WIC clients. This translates to roughly $148,000 worth of healthy food options for moms and babies, but the buck doesn’t stop there. That money goes straight back into our local food economy and supports hard-working farmers (and their families).

Our PICH (Partnership to Improve Community Health) team is focusing on innovative ways to help improve access to farmers markets. The Fresh Bucks program, which was developed in partnership with the City of Seattle, is an incentive program designed to encourage SNAP beneficiaries to spend their allowances at farmers markets. Fresh Bucks dollars can be spent exclusively on fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.

In 2013, Fresh Bucks helped more than 3,000 shoppers, almost half of whom had never shopped at a farmers market before. Thanks to the PICH effort, this program is expanding beyond Seattle to the rest of King County.

Many people at Public Health are working hard to get low-income residents to farmers markets. But we also recognize that transportation, childcare, and time are real barriers for many people. So, Public Health is exploring different ways to bring the farmers market to the people, through farm stands, CSAs and the Good Food Bag program. Their latest endeavor is a small farm stand situated outside of the Auburn Public Health clinic that will sell subsidized produce bags to Public Health clients.

Developed in collaboration with many community partners, the ROAR mobile food stand concept is not just about the fresh, locally grown produce. Each stop made by the ROAR team has its own unique flavor, focusing on the needs of the community. Whether it’s education, community gathering, or selling food, these priorities are set by the neighborhoods themselves.

Don’t miss out on this year’s farmers market season! Find a market near you today.

One thought on “Farmers markets: Not just about the $12 tomato

  1. The WIC farmers market voucher is not only offered to clients at our Public Health Centers, but also at numerous WIC clinics throughout the County. Last year, King County WIC clinics received $214,000 in farmers market vouchers – serving approximately 7200 families. Across Washington State, WIC clinics received $810,000 in farmers market vouchers. Now that’s a lot of fruits and vegetables!

    And let’s not forget how important it is to engage families in learning more about the importance of eating a variety of foods, especially fruits and vegetables, for good health. Public Health’s WIC and SNAP-Ed programs work with low-income families throughout King County to provide nutrition and cooking education with fruits and vegetables from the farmers market. SNAP-Ed leads group tours of the farmers markets and provides tutorials on how to use SNAP/EBT benefits to access the Fresh Bucks program.

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