Friday, August 28, 2009

In Season NW: Expanding Access

Like health care, access to good food should be a right and not a privilege reserved for those with the means to pay for it. Over and over again, studies have shown that people who eat a diet of fresh rather than processed foods enjoy better overall health and aren't as subject to chronic maladies like high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

Through a partnership between the Portland Farmers' Market and the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, the King Farmers' Market opened this season with the intention of expanding access to local produce and products in the moderate and lower-income neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland. And from opening day it exceeded vendors' wildest expectations.

And now comes word of the next step in the evolution of Portland markets into places that are welcoming and accessible to everyone in the city they serve with the formation of the Foodshare Fund Northeast. Similar to programs in place at other markets, it's an incentive program that supplements food stamps with a dollar-for-dollar match, providing up to $5 per person per week in matching funds.

Since the program launched in July, the average number of food stamp customers at the market has more than doubled, from 25 to 52 per week, and the average amount of food stamp tokens purchased has nearly doubled, from $420 to $780 per week. And while vendors can distinguish the tokens from the non-fund tokens, to shoppers there is no difference, taking the embarrassment factor out of transactions.

From a press release, David Sweet, co-chair of the King Farmers Market Community Advisory Council, said, "Community members have told us that they came to the market for the first time because they heard about the matching program." And that's something we can all feel good about.

No comments: