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Portland Farmers Market announced today the formation of a new companion nonprofit, Farmers Market Fund, a charitable organization dedicated to providing low-income, elderly and under-served populations in the region increased access to healthy, locally grown food. Farmers Market Fund will administer Fresh Exchange, the market’s token matching program for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.
SNAP benefits are distributed through the Oregon Trail Card, an electronic benefits transfer card similar to a debit card. Portland Farmers Market processes SNAP card transactions at the Information Booth of each of its eight markets, debiting the Oregon Trail Card in exchange for $1 tokens that shoppers can use at vendor stalls. Fresh Exchange increases the buying power of SNAP recipients by providing additional funds to purchase fresh food at certain Portland Farmers Market locations.
While Fresh Exchange is Farmers Market Fund’s current and primary program, leaders of the Fund intend to eventually expand Fresh Exchange to other farmers markets in the region and to provide educational programs about the benefits of consuming fresh, healthy food from local growers and producers.
As its first order of business, Farmers Market Fund will raise the dollar-for-dollar match amount of Fresh Exchange from $5 to $7 and expand the Fresh Exchange program to the Northwest Portland Farmers Market. Increasing the buying power of SNAP recipients at farmers markets allows more Portland-area low-income residents to enjoy the region’s bounty of fresh, nutritious food, provides a charitable service to those community members, and enhances the federal government’s investment in SNAP.
According to a report released in March from the Oregon Department of Human Services, 800,785 people – or 22 percent of Oregonians – received benefits in January from the state-federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which marks a 5.9 percent increase from January 2011. SNAP numbers have grown steadily over the past few years and the state predicts the number of recipients could reach 840,000 by June.
In January, the most recent numbers available, every region in Oregon saw a growth in the number of SNAP recipients, with Multnomah and Clackamas counties among those reporting increases higher than the state average. In Multnomah, 159,527 people received SNAP benefits, a 6.6 percent increase over last year.
Led by former Portland Farmers Market board chairperson Rosemarie Sweet, the Farmers Market Fund will allow Fresh Exchange to continue to expand and flourish during this time of need for many Oregonians.
“With one in five Oregonians receiving SNAP benefits, this program is more important than ever before,” said Sweet. “Through the Farmers Market Fund, we aim to increase awareness and opportunity for people with limited incomes to access locally grown food by augmenting the federal government’s investment in SNAP. This program helps all Portlanders enjoy the abundance of delicious foods grown in our region’s family farms, everything from spring asparagus to summer berries to winter kale.”
In 2012, Fresh Exchange will be available at three out of four of Portland Farmers Market’s neighborhood markets: King Portland Farmers Market, Buckman Portland Farmers Market, and now Northwest Portland Farmers Market.
“By making the benefit dollars go farther, Fresh Exchange encourages SNAP beneficiaries to frequent farmers markets so they can enjoy the best local food and support local farmers,” explained Anna Curtin, Program Manager of Portland Farmers Market. “In essence, the program helps to feed two families – putting food on the table for low-income families, and supporting small family farms in the area.”
The Evolution of Fresh Exchange
In 2009, the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods (NECN), Portland Farmers Market and a group of dedicated community leaders and volunteers partnered to establish Fresh Exchange (originally called Foodshare Fund Northeast) to help get more farm-direct produce into the hands of low-income residents. In Fresh Exchange’s inaugural year, King Portland Farmers Market shoppers using SNAP benefits received an additional $5 per week in matching tokens to spend on fresh local food.
Building on the success of the program established by NECN, in 2010 Fresh Exchange expanded to Buckman Portland Farmers Market in SE Portland, thanks to a Portland Business Alliance Leadership team and fiscal administrator Southeast Uplift. The Portland Business Alliance Leadership team even compiled a toolkit guide in order to help others launch and sustain SNAP incentive programs at their markets. The Fresh Exchange Toolkit is available for download at Portland Farmers Market’s website.
For the 2012 season, the program will extend to the Northwest Portland Farmers Market and funds will be administered through the Farmers Market Fund. Plus, SNAP recipients will be able to receive $7 per week in matching tokens at all three Portland Farmers Market locations offering Fresh Exchange, $2 more than in past seasons.
Since the inception of the Fresh Exchange program, more than $44,000 has been distributed to area residents in need. These funds have ultimately been directed into the hands of the region’s food producers, contributing to the success of the local food economy and fostering healthier communities.
“We envision Portland as a place where every resident has access to high quality, nutritious, locally-grown food, and where farmers markets are accessible to all,” said Trudy Toliver, executive director of Portland Farmers Market. “The creation of Farmers Market Fund and expansion of Fresh Exchange helps bring this vision to life.”
Funding the New Fund
New Seasons Market was the first local business to support the new Farmers Market Fund with a donation of $10,000. Portland Farmers Market season sponsor Dave’s Killer Bread has once again pledged to donate 25 percent of profits from booth sales at the markets to Fresh Exchange. Last season, Dave’s Killer Bread donated $5,720 to Fresh Exchange.
Wells Fargo, Alberta Cooperative Grocery, Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, the Kelley Foundation Trust and Grand Central Baking have also generously donated to Fresh Exchange over the years. Added Sweet, “We invite individuals, families and corporations to make a contribution to Farmers Market Fund to help further our collective goal of fresh, healthy food for all Portland citizens.”
Contributions can be mailed to: Farmers Market Fund, c/o Portland Farmers Market, 240 N. Broadway, Suite 129, Portland, OR 97227. Farmers Market Fund is a registered charity with the State of Oregon and contributions to the Fund are tax deductible to the extent the law allows.
For questions about Fresh Exchange, using tokens at the market, or the Portland Farmers Market season, call the Portland Farmers Market office at (503) 241-0032 or email Anna Curtin firstname.lastname@example.org.