Last week, in an attempted joke about our sustainability efforts, a low-income client said “we’re too poor to be green.” We’ve never been slow with a retort, so replied, “you’re too poor not to be.” A weird moment. We snapped like a parent not following their conscious parenting techniques. But, sometimes you gotta break a few eggs to get an omelet. We need a huge omelet.
In a prior post we talked about locavorism and even a bit about “local” and how they’re not the bad words many low-income residents perceive them to be. It is an ongoing challenge to introduce ideas about local to communities. There is a disconnect between the belief that nutritious food is good for you and the seeking out and working with groups that help gain access to that food. People know about the “food revolution” in kid’s schools but aren’t necessarily achieving the follow through across the community.
What’s going on in schools has been outstanding. Children are learning valuable lesions about where their food comes from, what it can taste like, how they can become healthier. But let’s get back home. What are the options?
Many amazing organizations are working to plant community gardens in areas. We post upwards of 15 new gardens every week. We’re working on a mapping protocol to identify food options in neighborhoods. Increasingly, Community Supported Agriculture, farmers markets and fresh produce outlets are coming to urban low-income neighborhoods. But even when the CSA shares, farmers markets and fresh produce outlets do exist, there still remain barriers. Sometimes there are class issues, but more often there are concerns about the cost of nutritious food. Affordability.
So, part of our mapping research includes locating those markets that accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits — formerly food stamps.
In one year, SNAP usage has increased by almost 17% nationally. People will shop where they can use these benefits. Most states have converted the “stamps” from paper to a plastic card. Unfortunately, many of the local, fresh food providers do not have the capacity to accept this Electronic Benefits Card (EBT). Of course, many a corner store – usually the only community option — accepts EBT. Many a corner store also usually has no fresh produce.
The USDA administers the SNAP/EBT initiative (along with the Women, Infants and Children [WIC] Farmers Market Nutrition Program [FMNP].) SNAP/EBT is currently available at farmers markets in 39 states, while WIC/FMNP is in 37 states. But that could literally be one market in an entire state. There are some places, like Illinois, that have only a handful of markets that accept SNAP out of nearly 300 outlets. But they have recently introduced legislation to get every market EBT wired.
The problem is, markets in some states find they just can’t finance the technology or manage the paperwork. To assist with this, the USDA has initiated pilot programs to help defray costs. In March, Congress stepped in with the innovative HR4971 “Green Food Deserts Act”. Several states are also introducing legislation to support machines at markets.
So, as we bring the farm closer to urban fork and foster locavorism in places it’s needed most, we’ll strive for a better SNAP. The one that increases access to nutritious food options. And we’ll try to keep the other one in check…unless you really, really make us mad.