Fresh Bucks: Extending summer’s harvest at the Community Food Co-op

Community Food Co-op

1220 N. Forest Street


(360) 734-8158

Asked to describe a typical workday as the outreach manager at the Community Food Co-op, Adrienne Renz’s face lights up as she describes a list of accomplishments that might leave a less energetic human exhausted.

She reports that the day before, in addition to leading a team meeting, she met with Sustainable Connections regarding a Whatcom Food Network forum, headed back to the office to discuss the Co-op’s upcoming Community Party, and then attended a school district wellness assemblage. After that, she still found time to gather with the “Fresh Bucks” team to discuss ways to expand the three-year-old program that increases access to fresh fruit and produce for participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—also known as EBT, or food stamps.

Beginning the second week of June and continuing through the summer, Fresh Bucks makes it possible for those with EBT cards to extend their shopping dollars not only at the downtown and Cordata Community Food Co-ops, but also at the Bellingham Farmers Market (Saturdays), the Twin Sisters Markets in Maple Falls (also on Saturdays), and the Ferndale Farmers Market (Fridays). The successful collaboration focused on food access also extends to supporting and promoting area farmers and their edible products.

Thanks to help from a grant from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture, Fresh Bucks gives participants up to $10 of matching funds per day and per location—meaning that if cardholders stock up on menu items like farm-fresh strawberries, lettuce, kale, herbs, radishes, turnips, asparagus and fava beans (all of which are currently in season), a credit match will be applied to their produce purchases.

“It’s wildly popular,” Renz says. “We’ve seen people using the program. We know it’s giving people more access to quality food.”

A look at the numbers solidifies her statement. In 2014, the first year Fresh Bucks was implemented in Bellingham— one of the first cities in the nation to be approved for the program—the match provided $40,000 worth of fresh produce for local families. And as the collaborations have expanded, so has the opportunity for people to taste the flavors of the season.

“It gives people a chance to get food from Washington growers,” Renz says. “We like to buy local, and this supports that.”

Also, through Healthy Connections classes at both grocery store locales, people can find out more not only about making good food choices, but also discover what to do with the produce they’ve procured. And through the Opportunity Council—which provides outreach and education for EBT recipients—copies of Leanne Brown’s Good and Cheap: Eat Well on $4/Day can be had (it’s also available to download for free at Classes focusing on the canny cookbook are also offered.

“It’s for anyone who wants to be making good food choices,” Renz says, pointing to the butternut squash soup as a recipe that’s been popular among those who’ve used the cookbook as a guide.

“There’s a desire and need for this kind of information,” Renz notes, adding that helping make programs like Fresh Bucks successful is one of the reasons she loves her multifaceted job—where no day is ever the same and there’s always an opportunity to commit to a business she believes in.

Looking ahead, she says the summer will be a busy one. The Cordata Co-op is getting a facelift, the community-owned organization will be hosting a Bellingham Bells baseball game July 2, and September will bring the annual Farm Fund Hootenanny and, in the middle of the month, an inaugural Market Walk.

The event will happen during the day, and will expand to include downtown wine shops, Carne, Terra Organica, the Bellingham Farmers Market, and beyond. Renz points out that part of what excites her about events like is the unexpected but welcome collaborations that ensue.

“That’s why I love my job,” she says. “We get to look for those opportunities.”

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