In the summer of 2021, the Kennewick Farmers Market sent me an email looking for volunteers. At the time, I was getting my nonprofit set up and was living in a sketchy apartment within biking distance of the farmers market. I’ve been a chef my whole life and worked at farm-to-table restaurants, but I was much more familiar with the table piece than the farm. It was a wonderful opportunity to learn about the local farmers, the state of our markets, and the people who tend to shop at each market. I managed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Match Program, an extension of EBT that provided matching funds to spend on fruits and vegetables — up to $40 per market. Although I’m no longer volunteering at the Kennewick market, I love our markets and the SNAP, so I thought I’d write an article about the program and try and spread the word for anyone who doesn’t know.
There are four farmers markets in the Tri-Cities:
- Kennewick’s in front of the Public Market (Thursday from 4am–7pm)
- Richland’s in the Parkway (Fridays from 9am–1pm)
- Pasco’s on 4th Ave. (Saturday from 9am–1pm)
- 3 Eyed Fish (Sunday from 10am-–1pm)
You can find some farmers and vendors at all of these markets, but each market is unique. They are all in different locations and on different days, so it really does feel like all the bases are covered. Of the four, two markets provide EBT assistance: Pasco and Kennewick. There have been some changes to the SNAP this year, especially in Pasco.
A new digital roll-out, SNAP Produce Rewards, has begun its pilot phase at the Pasco market this year. It’s a separate program from the traditional SNAP, implemented to help streamline the cumbersome back-of-house management of the current program and provide a broader range of locations for people to use their funds. In the traditional SNAP Match Program, each market needs to apply for and set up a SNAP account. Then the market provides a place for customers to pull money out of their EBT cards. Like an ATM, the EBT funds exchange for wooden tokens used to buy food products. The customer would also receive matching funds as paper ‘money,’ which they could spend on fruits and veggies. For the last two years, the match limit was $40 per customer per market, but it was ‘too successful’ throughout the state; it ran through the national and state funding faster than expected. To keep the program funded, this year’s match limit is $25, and because Pasco is doing this new program (SNAP Produce Rewards) this year, the Kennewick market is the only one participating in the traditional SNAP Match Program.
The new pilot program works differently, with customers paying for their SNAP-approved foods directly to the farmer using their EBT card. The money goes from the EBT to the farmer's account, then matching funds are transferred from the State into the customer's account. This program only funds $50 per customer per month — an even further reduction in potential matching funds. The digital match also shifts the program’s workload from the market to the individual farmers. Now, farmers are tackling the issues of setting up the program themselves, which is a sizeable hurdle, especially during its first year in the pilot. But once it’s set up and running, each farmer can accept EBT funds through the customer's card from anywhere, including markets that don’t run the traditional SNAP Match like Richland, 3 Eyed Fish, and even their own stands separate from any farmers market. This is an improvement for EBT users who live in Richland or places further out of town but closer to the farmer’s roadside stand. It’s also a benefit for farmers who no longer have to wait for the individual markets to process the tokens and paper and print their checks.
These programs are an invaluable service to people with low or no income; it allows them access to healthy fresh produce and the communal experience of shopping at a local market. But programs like this aren’t easy to run. Finishing the paperwork, accounting for all the tokens, and processing the SNAP papers of the traditional system is quite a bit of effort after each market — a huge hurdle that has prevented the nonprofit Richland market from ever starting the program in the first place.
Richland’s downtown market started in 2006 and has overtaken the Pasco market in size, with eighty to ninety vendors and over eight thousand customers walking through the Parkway every Friday morning. They have reached capacity not just in their vendor spaces but also in the amount of work manageable by the sole paid person on staff: Market Manager Kathy Hanson. Originally a farmer-vendor herself, Kathy runs the Richland market with the help of volunteers, so the added complexities of the traditional SNAP program were just too much for their setup.
But according to Damien Davis, the manager of both the Pasco and Kennewick markets, it’s worth the effort to help the community and the farmers. With the new program in Pasco, you can still use your EBT benefits at select farmer stands in Richland — including Schreiber and Flatau Farms. The process can be a bit much for farmers who have already had to organize for the new WIC and Senior WIC system, as well as adapt to changes in Oregon’s programs. But more farmers are being added to the program all the time, so keep an eye out for more produce options — like Walchli Melons — as the season progresses. You can find the list of vendors at the bottom of this page on Washington’s DOH site.
We are lucky to live surrounded by farmers whose constant work provides the state and the country with some of the best produce available. Buying food fresh from local farms at markets in our community is the main way we can support them and share in the literal fruits of their labor. The SNAP and WIC programs allow those of us with low or no income to have that same opportunity. These programs directly benefit the parent who feeds their family, the market that sees a sales increase, and the farmer whose produce reaches the tables of everyone who wants it.