A farmer’s market incentive program may increase access to fruits and vegetables for residents of low-income communities, suggests a new study led by the University of Washington School of Public Health.
Researchers from the School worked with the public health department in Seattle and King County, Washington, to evaluate three programs designed to increase fruit and vegetable consumption. All programs worked but one, called Fresh Bucks, allowed people to buy and eat significantly more produce.
Fresh Bucks participants are given incentives through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to make purchases at more than 35 farmer’s markets and market stands in Seattle and King County. SNAP funds spent are matched at up to $10 with money that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables. According to this study, 60 percent of people who used Fresh Bucks reported that they purchased half or more of their produce through the program.
“Fruit and vegetables are a critical piece of a healthy diet, but most people don’t eat enough for a number of reasons,” said senior co-author Ms. Emilee Quinn, research coordinator at the Center for Public Health Nutrition, housed in the UW School of Public Health.
“The Fresh Bucks program, which uses an approach that has been becoming more and more available in King County and throughout the rest of the state and country, was a stand out because we saw the strongest evidence that the program’s low-income participants ate more fruits and vegetables as they used the program more.”
Researchers also looked at subsidized farm stands and produce bag distribution. Mobile neighborhood farm stands are open to all income levels and sell wholesale or discounted produce. The Good Food Bags program provides a weekly bag of produce sold at a discounted price (a $10 value sold for $5). Researchers interviewed 217 people who took part in one of the three programs.
“Through this evaluation, we saw that each of the three programs attracted somewhat different types of shoppers and that people using each program appreciated slightly different things about each – focusing to different degrees on how the program made produce more affordable, convenient or allowed them to support local farmers, for example,” Ms. Quinn said.
Of all the programs studied, Fresh Bucks participants reported the lowest income and highest food insecurity, mainly due to SNAP eligibility requirements. Fresh Bucks offers a larger amount and wider variety of produce options than farm stands or Good Food Bags. The Fresh Bucks program encourages participants to purchase $20 worth of produce per visit and takes place at farmers markets with numerous vendors selling a range of produce types and varieties. Fresh Bucks participants also mentioned affordability as a key reason for accessing the program. This finding indicates that this program may uniquely address financial barriers for shoppers interested in purchasing healthier foods.
Though Fresh Bucks proved to be more effective, all programs showed signs of success.
“Together, these results help us understand the benefits of several approaches, and indicate there may be an advantage to offering multiple programs in a community to meet people’s various needs and concerns,” Ms. Quinn added.