Sustainability Tax Strengthen Ties Between Local Agriculture and Food Security

On Saturday, Boulder County Farmers Markets hosted the first annual Food for All Achievement Award ceremony at the Longmont Farmers Market to celebrate the partnership between local government leaders and nonprofits in addressing food insecurity and environmental sustainability. The Food for All Achievement Award was presented to Boulder County Commissioner Marta Loachamin to recognize the Boulder County Board of Commissioners’ leadership and innovation in these programs.

Many customers may not know that Boulder County Farmers Markets hosts some of the largest at-market food relief programs in the state. From piloting the Double Up Food Bucks program through SNAP to supporting older adults in Boulder County with produce delivery, expanding access to fresh, locally-grown foods for all of our community members is a key part of our work. We believe that local food producers play a vital role in addressing local food insecurity and work to make the connection between growers and customers in need of food assistance. 

Communities across the country have experienced skyrocketing rates of food insecurity as rising inflation and the end of pandemic-related aid coincided to create record financial instability for households just barely making ends meet. SNAP enrollment is nearly at an all-time high, just below peak COVID levels, demonstrating increased food insecurity and unmet need in Boulder County. Pantries and family resource centers in Longmont are reporting large increases in the number of families they serve, with 40-60% of participating households seeking assistance for the very first time. While both government and private food assistance programs are seeing record participation rates, funding for these programs remains uncertain as the federal government barely avoided a government shutdown earlier this month and the fate of the 2023 Farm Bill is still unknown. 

In 2016, Boulder County voters approved the Sustainability Tax ballot initiative to allocate a portion of sales and use tax revenue to support sustainability programs throughout the county. The tax helps fund projects that support innovations in sustainable agriculture for local farmers as well as programs that help direct locally grown, nutrient-dense produce to households facing food insecurity. With support from the Boulder County Board of Commissioners, the Sustainability Tax has funded the WIC Gap program at the Longmont Farmers Market, which helps customers access extra benefits through WIC when shopping at the market, and also helps fund Fruit & Veg Boulder for City of Boulder residents.

Federally, the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) supports low-income pregnant and nursing women, and children up to the age of 5, with aid and vouchers to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables. Benefits for families participating in WIC nearly tripled during the pandemic, but as pandemic-related aid expired, the extra benefits that families relied on began to disappear. Through the Sustainability Tax, Boulder County Farmers Markets and our community partners have been able to continue to offer extra incentives for families in East Boulder County to continue purchasing local produce. Out of customers participating in the program, 95% have reported increased consumption of fruits and vegetables and improved food security. 

While this funding benefits the families seeking food assistance, it also provides financial support for small-scale farmers that rely on local purchasing to see their businesses succeed. Local produce farmers following organic and regenerative farming practices can struggle to compete with larger farms that use conventional methods (such as spraying chemical pesticides) that allow them to win over customers with lower prices. Through Boulder County Farmers Markets’ WIC delivery program alone, we support 23 local farms, 7 of which are certified organic and 10 others that use organic, sustainable, or regenerative practices. As we collectively look towards creating a more sustainable future, we cannot ignore the role that agriculture plays in combating climate change. Programs like the WIC Gap Program funded by the Sustainability Tax showcase the potential innovative partnerships have in addressing public health and wellbeing at a community-scale. 

To learn more about food assistance programs at the Boulder and Longmont Farmers Markets, email [email protected].

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