Here at Whole9, we’re on a quest to spread the Good Food Word to as many people as possible. However, there is the prevailing idea that eating healthy, nutrient-dense food is an unreachable goal… because it’s too darn costly.
There are some really great resources out there to help you figure out how to buy Good Food on a budget, and a recent report by the USDA tries to dispel the myth that eating healthy has to be expensive. We fully believe that for the majority of folks, you can get the full benefits of high-quality meat, seafood, eggs, vegetables, fruits, and healthy fats without breaking the bank. (And we’ll try to stay off our favorite soapbox, called: “You just spent $5 on a latte/$80 on your cable bill/$200 on an iPhone, and that’s not even food.”)
Living In A Food Desert
Unfortunately, there is a portion of the U.S. population that has very limited access to the Good Foods that we promote. These people live in “food deserts” where – due to lack of grocery stores – healthy, affordable food is difficult to obtain.
In fact, a 2010 review of the research literature shows that neighborhoods with the lowest incomes have nearly 30% fewer supermarkets than neighborhoods with the highest incomes. Transportation cost and neighborhood safety only compounds the problem. Additionally, options like farmers markets often don’t exist in low-income areas, making access to healthy food even more restrictive.
But there is good news on the horizon. Nationally, there is a big push to increase access of real, healthy foods for everyone, regardless of income. In fact, we’ve recently discovered a fantastic program here in Utah that helps low-income populations purchase fresh, local vegetables, fruits and meat through the SNAP program.*
*The Food Stamp Program has been renamed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Good People Doing Good Things For Good Food
Marti Woolford, Outreach Coordinator for Utahns Against Hunger, has helped establish a program allowing food stamps and EBT cards for payment at Utah’s Farmers Markets. We learned about Marti through our new Director of Operations, Erin Handley – and Marti was already familiar with our programs, since she recently participated in a Whole30 and attended our recent nutrition seminar in Salt Lake City.
We asked Marti a few questions about increasing access to good food and Utahns Against Hunger’s Food Stamps at Farmers Markets program. Here is what she had to say:
Whole9: We recently learned the term “food insecurity”. What is that?
Marti: The American Institute of Nutrition defines food security as access by all people at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life and includes at a minimum the ready availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods, and the assured ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways. Food insecurity exists whenever these conditions are limited or uncertain. Hunger and malnutrition are potential, although not necessary, consequences of food insecurity.
The Food, Research and Action Center (frac.org) uses a newer term called food hardship. Food hardship occurs when someone can answer yes to the question, “Have there been times in the past twelve months when you did not have enough money to buy food that you or your family needed?” Food hardship data tends to be more current, compared to food insecurity data. This has to do with the data collection methods.
Whole9: Is a push toward organic, local, sustainable food helpful or harmful to low-income Americans?
Marti: I think this push is helpful, most definitely. These foods are healthier for everyone, not just low-income people. Affordability and accessibility of organic and local foods was a concern in the past but we are seeing a decrease in the cost of organic produce at the grocery stores. This has a lot to do with large corporations starting to sell organic. Farmers markets and fruit and vegetable stands are widely available these days and this is helping to bridge the accessibility divide. There is a lot of research that shows local produce sold at farmers markets costs less than the grocery store. And now that people can use their SNAP benefits at so many farmers markets, affordability and accessibility issues are being taken care of.
Whole9: Tell us more about the success of Utahns Against Hunger’s Food Stamps at Farmers Markets program.
Marti: The success of the program at the Downtown Farmers Market in Salt Lake City has been amazing. When the program started in the summer of 2008, we had no idea how successful it would be. I had spent the few months before the market opened doing outreach and handing out flyers to social service agencies so people would know they could use their food stamps (SNAP benefits) at the three different markets that were now accepting them. That summer was so busy! There were days when over $1,000 worth of tokens were purchased, sometimes in a matter of hours. People were so happy they could use their food stamps at the market. That first summer over $9,000 worth of tokens were sold.
The success of this program has to do with filling a need. Many people who receive SNAP benefits care where their food comes from and how it is grown. In 2011, over $19,000 worth of tokens were sold. The need was there and we filled it.
For more information about Utahns Against Hunger’s food stamp program at farmers markets visit our farmer’s market page at http://www.uah.org/projects-initiatives/fms/.
Whole9: How can our readers find out more about programs like this in their community?
Marti: First, contact the manager of your local farmers market to see if they accept SNAP benefits. If they don’t, this would be a good place to start a conversation about doing so. If you are unsure if your community has a farmers market, here are some good online resources:
- The Farmers Market Coalition
- Farmersmarket.com has a searchable directory of farmers markets across the country
- USDA Agriculture Marketing Services has a searchable directory of farmers markets and you can narrow your search to include markets that take food stamps
Whole9: How can our readers help get a food stamp program established at their local farmers market?
Marti: The first step would be to speak with the manager of your local farmers market to see they are interested in accepting SNAP benefits. There is a process to be able to accept SNAP benefits at your market. First, you have to apply for an FNS license; this process can take up to 45 days. You will need to purchase a wireless machine to use to process SNAP benefit cards. Lastly, you will need to decide if you want to use wooden tokens or script for customers to use to purchase produce with. The Farmers Market Coalition is also a great resource. They have a community listserve where you can ask questions to people who have a lot of experience with farmers markets and SNAP benefits.
Read Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) at Farmers Markets: A How-To Handbook for more information.
A huge thank you to Marti and Utahns Against Hunger for taking the time to educate us about this important and timely topic. We fully support programs like Food Stamps at Farmers Markets, as they are such an important catalyst in getting Good Food to all populations and communities.
Do you know of any programs like this in your community? We’d love to hear more stories about people and groups that make it easier for folks to access good food in your area. Please share with us in comments – and as always, thank you for reading, and for your support.