Food stamps, EBT, SNAP benefits: they’re all different ways of talking about the same thing, and for the past three years, most Spokane area farmer’s markets have accepted them as currency in exchange for farm-fresh food.
And yet, Brian Estes — a program manager for Catholic Charities of Spokane — says each week at the South Perry Farmer’s Market, a new customer wanders through the market, only to find out that they can use their EBT card there.
“I don’t know if we’re just seeing word of mouth slowly have an effect,” he says, “but at least every three weeks we have someone that lives three blocks away that is like, ‘Oh my God, I didn’t realize you do that!’ That’s gratifying and exciting, but also totally frustrating.”
Last week, the Thursday Market at South Perry, West Central Marketplace and the Spokane Farmer’s Market rolled out a program that hopes to catch even more EBT cardholders. It’s called the Fresh Match. For every $5 spent in EBT benefits, customers will receive an additional $2 in “Fresh Match bucks,” which can be used on eligible market items. The offer is good up to $15 — which essentially becomes $21.
“And you can do that week after week, which is what we want — for people to come back,” Estes says.
Though not every local EBT user knows they can use their cards at local markets, Estes says EBT spending has increased exponentially at local markets over the last few seasons. The Spokane Farmer’s Market saw more than $9,500 in EBT spending in just 2011. In 2009, the Thursday Market’s first year of accepting EBT, the market saw less than $1,000 in EBT sales; but, by 2010, that number had more than doubled. This year, according to Estes, the market projects seeing more than $4,000 in EBT spending — with $500 coming in during a four-hour market day in August.
The pilot program is being test-driven here in Spokane through Oct. 11, and is being watched closely by the Washington State Farmer’s Market Association. If it works out well here, there’s a chance that the Fresh Match program could extend to 64 markets statewide.
The Spokane Farmers’ Market operates Wednesdays and Saturdays from 8 am – 1 pm • 20 W. Fifth Ave.
Thursday Market at South Perry operates Thursdays from 3 - 7 pm • 924 S. Perry St.
West Central Marketplace operates Tuesdays from 3 - 6 pm • 1428 W. Broadway Ave.