The Healthy Local Eating pilot project, which will be implemented in two stages over 2016 and 2017, will offer employees the opportunity to reduce their out-of-pocket healthcare costs by purchasing locally grown fruits and vegetables through the Healthy Incentives employee wellness program.
“We’re building on the success of our wellness program by providing employees and their families an extra incentive to support local farmers,” said Executive Constantine. “This is a great opportunity for King County to once again create an innovative model that can be replicated in the public and private sectors.”
The Healthy Local Eating project will add purchases of local fruits and vegetables from farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture programs, known as CSAs, as another option for employees to meet their Healthy Incentives goals, while helping local farming businesses at the same time.
The pilot project received a $100,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create program guidelines and a reporting structure. The grant will also launch an aggressive promotional campaign to create awareness about farmers markets and Community-Supported Agriculture programs, known as CSAs, and the benefits of eating healthy local foods.
Despite an improved overall King County economy, growing population and ranking as the second largest market for local food in the United States, the county’s agriculture industry has seen its share of the county’s $6 billion annual food market decline. According to USDA census data, the value of King County agriculture has decreased 4 percent since 2007.
King County’s 42 farmers markets brought in an estimated $20 million in revenue in 2012, while CSAs brought in around $2 million. Despite these achievements, farmers markets and CSAs accounted for only 3 percent of the county’s $6 billion food market. King County has the fourth-largest number of small farms – 20 acres or less – in Washington state with more than 1,800 farms.
It was those trends that led Executive Constantine to launch the Local Food Initiative, an aggressive county-wide effort to boost the local food economy and create better access to healthy foods.
CSAs have become a popular way for consumers to buy local, seasonal food directly from a farmer, who offers a certain number of what are known as “shares” to the public. Typically, the share consists of a box of vegetables, but other farm products may be included. Interested consumers purchase a share and, in return, receive a box of seasonal produce each week throughout the farming season.
Look for more details on the Healthy Local Eating initiative soon.