By Sarai Stevens
Newly formed in 2013, the Skagit Valley Farmers Market Coalition is a coordinated effort between the Bow Little Market, and the Sedro Woolley, Anacortes, Mount Vernon Farmers Markets. Our community representative on the board, Rita Ordonez of Community Action, provides essential feedback and focus.
The Coalition is excited to announce our first county-wide collaboration called the “Double-Up Bucks” EBT Incentive Program. This incentive program will encourage people on food assistance to buy fresh, locally grown and processed food, vegetable and herb starts, and food baring trees and shrubs at farmers markets in Skagit Valley. When EBT card (food stamp) users spend their money at one of the four Coalition markets, the markets, drawing from a communal fund, will match money spent up to $10. These matching funds will be given out as a county-wide market currency that can then be taken and spent at any of the four Coalition Markets (while funds last).
Mouse Bird, manager of the Mount Vernon Farmers Market, and Keri Knapp, manager of the Anacortes Farmers Market, applied for a grant in 2013 and received $18,500. We will be raising additional funds through the Skagit Valley Food Co-op’s 4% Friday, coming up February 28th, and through other community solicited donations. Please consider supporting this program by shopping on the 28th of February!
Included in the “Double-Up Bucks” fund is money allocated for outreach and education. The farmers market managers plan to periodically have representatives at affiliated local area food banks to make direct connections with those we wish to reach. We hope to further coordinate these efforts with the WSU Extension nutrition and cooking education program called Food $ense. Food $ense gives cooking demos and recipes at the food banks to help people learn how to prepare seasonal fruits and vegetables.
There will also be cooking demos at the individual markets themselves. We are currently discussing other possible educational opportunities promoted through each market, but held at centralized locations, like the Skagit Valley Food Co-op.
Since we do not wish to be grant dependent, the Coalition is not sure how long we can sustain the “Double-Up Bucks” program, but we feel it is an essential first step towards our long range goals of creating more inclusive, resilient markets and communities in Skagit Valley.
Typically, people of lower incomes have been largely absent from our farmers markets. However, local food is about food security, and it is up to us to figure out how to make our whole community food secure, not just those who can currently afford it. We see this program and others like Community Action’s Field to Family program as being important first steps towards the ideal of community feeding community.
The incentive program is a great way to introduce all the resources provided at a farmers market to a population who could most benefit. Fruit and vegetables bought directly from the farmer are often cheaper than what is available at the grocery store, and the cost of local food is less susceptible to sudden price increases. In addition, the markets offer free musical entertainment, kid’s activities, and classes. The markets are also good for mental health because they are places for casual, neighborly interactions that create a sense of identity and belonging largely absent from modern life. Lastly, farmers markets are places where networks grow. Forming buying groups, trading surplus food, recipes, ideas, tips, and seed are a part of an informal food economy that operates outside our monetary system. It would be excellent if these informal networks grew to include those who could use some help making their dollars stretch further.
In summary, the “Double-Up Bucks” EBT Incentive Program is not only a way of drawing in a more inclusive and diverse customer base creating more income for our farmers, but also as a way to introduce the markets as a community resource and encourage active participation in both our Valley’s farmers market’s formal and informal food systems. During this time of grave economic instability and shrinking government safety nets, the Coalition is mobilizing our collective creativity to achieve our ideal of community feeding community. Consider the proverb, “Give a man a fish and feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime.”