Look What Happens When We Try to Support Local Farmers and Low Income Families: It Works!

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Our nation will be healthier when everyone is able to have easy access to fresh and safe produce. New research from the USDA offers some insight into how our tax dollars can help make this happen.

With the latest consternation over the way Congress seems to cater to Big Food industry, it is easy to get bent out of shape over the way that our Federal Government handles what we eat. However, there are some really stellar ways that our tax dollars are working to change our food system for the better. For example, the USDA’s Know Your Farmer, Know Your Food initiative attempts to revitalize local food economies throughout the nation. Simultaneously the USDA Food and Nutrition Service runs programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), offering financial aid for low-income families and individuals to purchase healthy fruits and vegetables.  Since 2009, these programs have been cross-pollinated with federal programs to support electronic benefit transfer (EBT) use for local vendors and farmers markets, as well as farmers market snap support grants that allow groups like the Fair Food Network to run Double Up Food Bucks which doubles the money SNAP participants can spend on fresh local produce. Not only are these USDA programs working—they are working insanely well!

Since 2008, SNAP redemptions at farmers markets and other local vendors have increased six-fold to a total of $18.8 million spent on fresh and local produce. SNAP authorized vendors have increased over eight-fold in that same time period from 753 to over 6,400 according to the USDA press release.

One of the most exciting things about these programs is their ability to address getting nutritious food into “food deserts” (places where there is no access to healthy affordable food within a reasonable distance) and “food swamps” (places where there are only unhealthy options). Farmers gets more customers, boosting the local economy. Quoting USDA Undersecretary Kevin Concannon in the press release:

Farmers are a vital lifeline to healthy nutrition in low-income areas, because many bring their products to "food deserts" with few, if any, supermarkets or grocery stores. "Redemptions through farmers and producers nourish local economies, while helping those in underserved neighborhoods," Concannon said. "Without farmers markets, roadside farm stands and farmers who sell directly to the public, residents of these communities may have to travel to grocery stores outside their area to obtain fresh produce or make-do with processed foods."

So, it would appear that it is possible to create effective Federal policy that address nutrition deficits, promote local foods and builds local economies. Let’s keep on working towards more!

Image via Flickr

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Read all articles by Damon Cory-Watson

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