Good Food for All

At our farmers market, food stamps (SNAP) are doubled in value. So, for example, for a $5 debit on the SNAP card, a person can get $10 in healthy, fresh, locally-grown food.

The program debuted two years and participation has doubled each of the last two years. We’re optimistic that it will continue to grow.

But it’s still just a drop in the bucket. Something like a million dollars a month are spent on food stamps here, and only a tiny fraction of those are spent are the farmers market. They mostly are spent on food that isn’t nutritious, and often at “convenience” stores with inflated prices and few offerings, as there aren’t any grocery stores in the poorest neighborhoods.

One of our regular customers is an inspiration and I wish more folks would follow his example. He lost his job and is on a tight food budget. He shops at the farmers market using food stamps because, in his words, “it’s the best deal in town.” He rides his bike to the market and takes his food home in a cart he pulls behind it. I’ve seen lots of stories about people not being able to afford good food on a food stamps budget. In his case he is able to eat a diet of healthy fresh food and has money left over.

I wish more people would follow his example. Obviously not everyone will be able to bike to the market, and not everyone is informed enough to understand how to use food dollars most wisely. To break the increasing dependency low-income people have on poor food of course we need to address the problem of “food deserts.” But we also need work on helping folks understand that there are good, affordable options.

It won’t be easy, but I’m convinced it can be done.

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24 comments on “Good Food for All

  1. NebraskaDave says:

    Bill, I admire the man you talked about in your post that rides a bike to the market to get double food stamp value and good quality food. It’s an uphill climb to sway folks away from sugary caffeinated fast food items. The art of cooking is fading away. Flavor enhancers have pumped up the taste sensations so much that real food now tastes bland to shoppers. It’s sad to think that subtle food flavors have to be enhanced to satisfy the general public’s taste.

    Yesterday was a Father son day long camp that my grandson wanted to attend. At lunch we had typical camp food that was pretty much a mystery as to what it was. My grandson picked up a limited selection one being a bread bun with little packets of butter, so he thought. Upon opening up the small packaged serving of buttery food product, he gave it a sniff and looked at me with disgust and said, “it smells funny.” I replied, “That because it’s not real butter like we use at home.” He reluctantly used it but even he could tell the difference between real and buttery food product.

    Have a great good food for all day.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Bill says:

      Yes, he’s someone is making the best out of his situation, instead of letting it get the best of him. It requires effort on his part, but he gets to double his food budget. Hard to argue that it isn’t worth the effort!

      You’re right about the loss of basic cooking skills. It’s the sad truth that even if wholesome food was made available in these food deserts, many (probably most) people would nevertheless continue to buy junk food at the quick markets instead. Many wouldn’t know what to do with fresh vegetables. I’ve talked to several people who have had this exact experience when trying to improve the food system in food deserts. Our local food bank offers cooking classes and demonstrations and Cherie was instrumental in getting the grant to establish the demonstration kitchen and put together a cookbook with simple healthy recipes that is given out to people. It’s an uphill climb.

      But I think if something like our double-bucks program can draw people to the market, hopefully they’ll begin to discover what they’re missing.

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  2. It continues to be a huge uphill battle, Bill, but we’ve come a long ways from when Sacramento’s first natural food co-op was operated out of a small back room of an environmental center I was executive director of in 1970. It consisted of 4-5 barrels of grains as I recall. As far as we’ve come, I can’t help but think we should have come a lot farther, given the time frame. But with you, I think history is on our side from the perspective of sustainability. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill says:

      We’re up against some powerful forces in opposition Curt. The industrial food system has a huge advertising budget (and we don’t have any). They’re masters at catching and hooking children early. They get us addicted to sugar-coated, flavor-enhanced junk food, and it’s hard to compete with that. I do believe the tide is turning, but it’s turning slowly.

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      • Having spent several years battling the tobacco industry and its pack of lies, Bill, I understand something about both the challenge of the fight and the addiction. But I also know that a small group of dedicated people with a good cause can make a tremendous difference. And tides have a way of gaining momentum! –Curt

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Americans in general has lost the skills of preparing real food for living. It’s all about quick and easy with no thought for nutrition .

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    • Bill says:

      Our experience has been that “convenience” is the single biggest factor in people’s food choices–not price, not taste, and certainly not nutrition. It’s sad how few people prepare meals themselves, from real food. Of course that used to be the norm. I’m hopeful that we’re starting to see a change in that now though. Many of the regulars at our farmers market are young people and there seems to be a lot more awareness about food among 20-somethings now than there was when I was that age. Let’s hope!

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  4. Healthy eating by those on assistance also pays back with lowered medical bills.

    And I’ve noticed a large amount of the folks using Michigan’s Bridge card (food stamps) buy a LOT of junk food. I do wonder how many of them simply don’t know just how good vegetables and fruit tastes!

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    • Bill says:

      You’re absolutely right about that. In one sense it requires a type of deferred gratification–I can have lower medical expenses and a longer, happier life later, or I can have this junk food now. Given that choice many people prefer the immediate pleasure of the junk food. But one of the things we’re trying to show people is that giving up unhealthy food doesn’t mean giving up tasty food. I insist that once a person switches to a healthy diet and cleanses their system of the junk, they’ll enjoy their food more than ever. I think you’re right that lots of people just don’t know how good real food tastes.

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  5. freethnkr1965 says:

    What a great idea!

    Like

  6. avwalters says:

    What a cool program. Another big issue is that many people do not know how to cook. Basic cooking classes are needed to give people options. People who grew up on fast food, or convenience food do not have the skill set to deal with a bag of fresh produce.

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    • Bill says:

      You’re absolutely right about that. As I mentioned in my response to Dave and others above, we’ve seen that a lot. It’s shocking to see households with lots of children in them and no one knows how to cook. They’re completely dependent upon pre-cooked or processed foods.

      Cherie helped our local food bank get a grant that enabled them to produce a cookbook with simple healthy recipes and to put in a demonstration kitchen, where they regularly do cooking classes and demonstrations. That is essential. We could give plenty of nutritious fresh vegetables to people, but if they don’t know how to cook them then they’re just wasted.

      Liked by 2 people

      • avwalters says:

        Back in Two Rock, Rick and I were in charge of the community garden. Mostly that meant we did the work. We were shocked at how hard it was to get people to take free food. I started delivering it, door-to-door, with a neighborly discussion of what was good that week–rolling easily into a description of my favorite way to prepare it. Suddenly, we had more takers.

        Liked by 3 people

  7. Offering twice the amount at the farmer’s market will make a difference for some people. Wish more knew about it and realized the benefit, but at least it is helping some like the man you mentioned.

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    • Bill says:

      It creates an enticing incentive to shop at the farmer’s market rather than the grocery store. Our market manager has done a good job of spreading the word, including get free advertising on the sides of buses and things like that. We’ve got a long way to go, but we’re making progress.

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  8. ain't for city gals says:

    Just wondering…who makes up the difference in cost? The farmer or the program?

    Like

    • Bill says:

      Great question and I should have mentioned that. The difference is funded by a private grant. In our case I think it came from a local bank, and there was a limit to the amount funded. We didn’t hit the limit this year so everyone who wanted to take advantage of the offer was able to. In some cities similar programs are funded by churches or community groups.

      The vendors aren’t required to accept the tokens, and some don’t. It requires little effort on our part. At the end of the day we turn in the tokens to the market manager and the next week he gives us a check. Nevertheless, some vendors won’t accept them. And that creates a bit of a problem. A friend of mine who works in an inner-city ministry told me that he knows a couple of people who felt humiliated when they handed over the tokens and were told by the vendor that they didn’t accept them. I don’t think people should be forced to take them but I sure wish they all would. We accept WIC and Senior vouchers too (some vendors don’t) and we always try to take them cheerfully and without the least hint of judgment or disapproval. People are more likely to use the program I think if they aren’t worried about be shamed by it.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Leigh says:

    What an excellent incentive to get people to eat healthier foods!

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  10. BeeHappee says:

    It is nice indeed that some places do that. I had not noticed SNAP acceptance in our IL markets. I did see a couple markets in less afluent areas in Vermont that accepted food stamps and also grower/vegetable cash. They said they implemented grower cash a couple years ago so that growers can also in essence swap for the produce. (some of those markets were very small with some people bringing in just a couple of items).

    Well, we picked some 15 lbs of free paw paws yesterday. My kids always ask: why do homeless people stay in cities and pick through the garbage, but not go to the woods and pick mushrooms or fruit. And truthfully, I have the same question.
    In Lithuania, where every smallest inch of land is used for planting a cherry tree, or a patch of vegetables, you see fruit trees right in the city, next to playgrounds, parks, etc. And as you walk along the sidewalk, or go down the slide, you can have yourself a snack. 🙂 I am glad some of the urban gardens are coming here too.

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    • Bill says:

      We’ve wondered why the chronically unemployed (people who have essentially given up looking for a job) don’t plant backyard gardens. I can better understand it when a person is working long hours for low wages, and often raising kids too. But there are a lot of people here with plenty of time on their hands, yet they aren’t attempting to grow any food of their own. My guess is that we’ve become so separated from our food sources that it doesn’t even occur to them. Seeds and garden plants can be purchased with food stamps (and seeds are very inexpensive). I’d love to see more people taking some control over their food supply.

      I’ll share an interesting story that illustrates the difference between how Americans and Russians think about this (I know Lithuania isn’t Russia, but the principle probably still applies). I heard a seminary professor talk about teaching the parable of the Prodigal Son in both the U.S. and in St. Petersburg. In the story a young man is so hungry that he longs to eat the slop being fed to the pigs. The professor asked his class why the young man was that hungry. In the U.S. 90% of the students answered that it was because he had squandered all his money. That’s how I would have answered too. The text does say that. But in Russia 90% of the students gave a different answer. They said it was because there was a famine in the land. And the text says that too. So why do Russians attribute the man’s hunger to the famine, rather than to his lack of money? The Professor speculated that it was because of their communal memory of hunger during WWII. But I don’t think that’s right. In Russia it is common for people to keep vegetable gardens, just as it was common for a person to have no money. A lack of money that wouldn’t necessarily cause them to go hungry, but a famine would. In the U.S., on the other hand, we don’t raise our food, we buy it. So no money means no food (even though we can’t eat money).

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Seeking Joyful Simplicity says:

    I was on food stamps for a time about 11 years ago and was appalled at the limitations as well as the crap that ‘qualified’ – like sugary cereals. I’m glad the program has improved, but as you point out, unless we address the food deserts, many families remain without access to healthy food choices.

    Like

    • Bill says:

      It’s interesting that there are specific limitations on what WIC can be used for (basically only healthy food), while SNAP can be used to buy soft drinks, candy, etc. Every effort to limit SNAP to good food has been blocked by a combination of the food industry and those who think SNAP recipients should have the freedom to buy whatever kind of food they want. We could do a world of good, imho, by making junk food ineligible for food stamp purchases.

      Liked by 1 person

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