Piles o produce.
  • ANNA MINARD
  • Piles o' produce.
Last year brought a really fantastic city program to Seattle: Fresh Bucks, run out of the city's Office of Sustainability and Environment, is a program that offers matching funds for people using their food benefit cards to buy produce at local farmers markets. (For more specifics, go here.) People have been able to use EBT cards at farmers markets for a long time, which is great, but Fresh Bucks is the kind of program that is extraordinarily smart and efficient. It's relatively low-cost and spreads its money around to benefit many people in many ways with the same dollars. First, it makes healthier food more affordable for people who need it. It also makes people's food benefits, which are hard to live on, stretch farther. In turn, it supports local farmers and farmers markets by bringing in new customers and furnishing them with extra money that has to be spent right there. And additionally, it serves a greater environmental good by encouraging people to buy local, cutting down on the carbon-costly transport of fruits and veggies from other states and countries that you find in grocery stores. I can't keep track of what kind of threat that is—quadruple threat? Quintuple threat? It's the kind of smart public policy everyone can get behind.

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The program was run as a pilot last year, with private funding from JP Morgan Chase, the Seattle Foundation, and the WSDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. But organizers want to make sure it continues, and one way is to get city funding. Tammy Nguyen, an organizer with Southeast Seattle environmental and economic justice group Got Green, says private funds aren't always "secure and sustainable." If the city funds it on an ongoing basis, "we know every year we don’t have to sit in fear wondering if it will be around," says Nguyen.

Last year, in its limited pilot run, the program cost about $58,000, Nguyen says; for a full year this year, it'll run about $200,000. But they haven't heard about if they'll be funded again yet, she says.

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I called the mayor's spokesman, Aaron Pickus, to see what was up. He says that the city's planning to put together funding for the program again this year, and he's happy to announce that while they're working with last year's private funders, "this year there will also be a city portion that will support the funding." He can't give an amount yet, but they "should have an announcement on the exact budget sometime in the next month or so."

Pickus says all signs point to Fresh Bucks as a "strong program that's here to stay."