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Granite State Rumblings: SNAP Helps Recipients Eat Better, Boosting Local Farmers Markets

Farm Stand Image by CBERTEL Flicker CC

Farm Stand Image by CBERTEL Flicker CC

We all want every child to have what they need to grow up healthy. Healthy foods contain all the energy, minerals, vitamins and fiber kids need to grow. Yet families who depend on food stamps for the bulk of their meals tend to eat a lot of processed foods that are heavy in carbohydrates. Fresh fruits and vegetables do not seem like an option for many families on tight budgets.

The average SNAP (food stamps) recipient received about $133 a month (or about $4.45 a day) in fiscal year 2013. The average dropped to about $125 a month in fiscal year 2014 when a benefit increase included in the 2009 Recovery Act ended in November 2013, resulting in a benefit cut for nearly every SNAP household.

However, there is some good news. Tucked away in the Farm Bill’s nine hundred plus pages which went into law in February, is a benefit for SNAP beneficiaries that allows them to double their benefits at farmers markets. “This program helps families buy healthy food from their local farmers markets, which also helps family farmers and boosts the economy,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was instrumental in introducing the plan.

The program will provide $100 million to create grants that incentivize SNAP beneficiaries to use their benefits at farmers markets by matching their spending.

This is especially important for those on food stamps because, as Terry Smith, Director of the Division of Family Assistance for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said recently, “Almost all clients have run out of food and benefits within the third week of the month, which often forces them to rely on food pantries for assistance”.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo announced over the weekend that USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets, an increase of 76 percent since 2008. According to the press release:

The data reflects continued demand and growth of farmers markets in every region of the country. Alonzo also announced that AMS is developing three new local food directories that will expand USDA’s support for local and regional foods by providing easy access to the most current information about the local food market.

Alonzo made the announcements at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin, the country’s largest producer-only market, where she kicked off the 15th annual “National Farmers Market Week”, from Aug. 3 through Aug. 9, 2014.

“The National Farmers Market Directory numbers reflect the continued importance of farmers markets to American agriculture. Since its inception, the directory has proven to be a valuable tool for accessing up-to-date information about local farmers markets,” Alonzo said. “Farmers markets play an extremely important role for both farmers and consumers. They bring urban and rural communities together while creating economic growth and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods.”

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory provides information about U.S. farmers market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, and much more. The data is collected via voluntary self-reporting by operating farmers market managers and is searchable by zip code, product mix, and other criteria.

One of the biggest issues with this program is that many SNAP recipients may not know about it. Let’s help spread the word!

Here is an excellent article on the topic from Seacoast Online:

Food aid boosted for Seacoast families By Denise J. Wheeler

Among the shoppers at last weekend’s bustling Portsmouth farmers market was a 45-year-old man buying fresh produce for the first time in his life. “I’m on Cloud Nine,” he told a Seacoast Eat Local volunteer. “I didn’t know lettuce came in a ball.”

In a region becoming increasingly renowned for its culinary elite, there are many who cannot afford the luxury of farm fresh raspberries in July at $4 a half-pint. Left without enough money to pay bills and feed their children, families using the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — tend to shy away from grocery store produce sections and farmers markets, fearing the price of fresh food will consume too much of their limited monthly allotment. Too often, by the month’s end, SNAP funds have run out for families and they end up in food pantries.

Read the rest of the article.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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