A pilot project aimed at helping low income Seattleites increase their access to healthier food options kicked off this month.
"We really wanted to come up with strategies that would help extend their purchasing power," said Sharon Lerman, food policy advisor for Seattle.
Through a partnership between the Office of Sustainability & Environment and a handful of local farmers markets, EBT cardholders are now eligible to receive 'Fresh Bucks' - free money they can use to buy locally grown produce.
According to Lerman, the idea for the Fresh Bucks incentive program came after a series of community forums, held this spring, focused on the local food economy.
"One of the things we heard during the sessions was that people were really concerned about food access and affordability for low income residents," she said.
Since 1995, low income residents have been able to swipe their EBT cards at markets within the Neighborhood Farmers Market Alliance. Now, with the Fresh Bucks program people will be able to double their food value at the markets with very little effort. "An EBT cardholder would go to the information booth at the local market, tell them how much of their basic food benefits they want to spend and then the first $10 they use on the necessities, like eggs, meat, bread, milk, we will match it with $10 in Fresh Bucks," said Lerman.
Fresh Bucks can only be redeemed to buy local fruits and vegetables at the markets.
The matching money for the pilot project comes from a grant awarded to the city by the Seattle Foundation, Washington State Department of Agriculture and JP Morgan Chase.
The program will run from August to October, or until matching funds run out.
Lerman says not only are low income Seattleites benefiting from Fresh Bucks, so is the city and the local farming community.
"We are getting more EBT shoppers to help bring more federal nutrition dollars into the community," she said.
Local farmers markets using Fresh Bucks include: Columbia City, Lake City, Phinney, the University District, Magnolia, Broadway and West Seattle.
The goal is to expand the program to other farmers markets and neighborhoods.
Lerman says they will spend the next several months evaluating the incentive program in hopes of finding ways to keep it up and running for good.