On a beautiful summer day, the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market beckons with a bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Many of us take this amazing resource for granted, but for others, a pint of fresh blueberries seems an impossible luxury. As sponsors of the market, Friends of Third Place Commons aspires to increase the accessibility of fresh, nutritious, and local food for everyone in the community.
In 2008, Friends of Third Place Commons received a venture grant from United Way of King County to develop and test a new food assistance program at the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market. After a successful pilot phase, Friends of Third Place Commons was awarded two more United Way grants, and has helped put over $30,000 worth of healthy food on the plates of our neighbors in need. In 2011, the Church of the Redeemer in Kenmore stepped up to help fund the program, and their generosity is making a difference in our community this summer.
Market Bucks are $2 coupons that are used to buy food directly from the farmers at the market. They are not distributed at the market, but through partner agencies such as the Shoreline School District, Hopelink, Center for Human Services, and the Shoreline /Lake Forest Park Senior Center. Market Bucks recipients are already screened, and each agency is aware of their needs and of their ability to travel to the market.
With solid infrastructure to support the program, Friends carefully tracks both the distribution and redemption of Market Bucks. The coupons are coded with a number that corresponds with each distribution point. At the end of every market day, redeemed coupons are sorted and information entered into spreadsheets. Friends of Third Place Commons can determine not only where they came from, but where they were used. This information is useful as the effectiveness of the program is evaluated throughout the season.
The Market Bucks program emphasizes good nutrition and healthy food while it increases access to fresh fruits and vegetables for people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families. But there is another benefit. Because the project is community-based, it helps create or reinforce other safety nets. For example, an elderly woman visited the market for the first time after she was given a coupon by a neighbor. She was amazed to find food she could have as a diabetic and admitted that she had not been eating regularly. Friend’s staff referred her to the Senior Center and Hopelink for further assistance. By the end of the season, she was using the food bank at Hopelink, and she had joined the Senior Center where she received much-needed foot care.
Already a model throughout Washington and beyond, the Market Bucks Program has gained national attention. Friends is frequently asked to consult with agencies and other markets interested in setting up their own food assistance programs. In these challenging economic times, Friends of Third Place Commons is determined to make the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market accessible to our hungry neighbors.
If you would like to support this program, please contact Constance Perenyi at firstname.lastname@example.org. The next time you shop at the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market, you will know that you have helped someone else feed their family as well.