Everyone deserves to eat well. That’s an ethic that most can agree to in principle.
In practice, however, millions of people go hungry in the U.S., and many live in “food deserts” with little access to high-quality groceries. Researchers like Mari Gallagher have shown that low-income neighborhoods across the U.S. are more likely to offer fast food outlets and convenience stores than grocery stores or food co-ops.
This is not only unfair, but it’s also a public health issue, since good food is the best medicine when it comes to chronic (and costly) conditions like diabetes and obesity. Moreover, the trend has helped build the misconception that healthy food is reserved for the elite.
Farmers markets, as it turns out, can play a key role in providing broader access to healthy foods. The Jefferson County Farmers Markets (JCFM), a network of three markets (two in Port Townsend, WA, and one in Chimacum, WA), is among a growing number of farmers markets to provide matching funds for people who use food assistance benefits at the market. JCFM has two matching funds: one for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, and the other for those participating in the USDA’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) or Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP).
The WIC and Senior FMNP matching funds, called “Gimme5,” are provided by local businesses and individuals. When a participant shows their WIC/Senior FMNP vouchers at the market, they will receive an additional $20 to be used for fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, eggs, garden seedlings, seeds and honey.
The SNAP matching grant is funded in part by a grant from the USDA, which focused on the issue under the Obama administration. Participants withdraw funds from their SNAP accounts from ATM-like machines at the market. They receive tokens, which can be used to purchase food from farmers market vendors. The participants then return any unused tokens to their SNAP accounts, and the farmers turn in the tokens the received for money.
Together, the programs “help ensure that our local community has greater access to fruit and vegetables at the peak of their freshness,” Amanda Milholland, JCFM director, told a Port Townsend newspaper. “At the same time, it boosts our local economy by putting money directly into the hands of local farmers.”
In addition to providing access to good food for all members of the community, the Jefferson County Farmers Markets hosts the Port Townsend Artisan Food Festival, which boasts more than 70 local farm booths, artisan food and craft beer, along with crafts, classes, chef cooking demonstrations, kids’ activities, and an after party. More than 3,000 people enjoyed the 2017 festival. Part of the organization’s mission is promoting the farm economy of the surrounding region, and the food festival is a fantastic way to bring the community together and connect rural with urban and food with art.
Organic Valley is committed to supporting its local communities and is happy to sponsor the Jefferson County Farmers Markets for its impact on the lives of its community members. For another story of a successful program that’s fighting local hunger issues, check out is excellent Rootstock Radio interview with Kris Soebroto of Sisters of the Road.