Saturday, May 15, 2010

Food Stamps at the Farmers' Market

The Forest Grove Farmers' Market offers a food stamp program for the second year in a row. Here's a look at how that helps both the farmers, and the people with low incomes who might otherwise go without fresh organic produce.                                                     

Photo by Steve Bickel
I might have mentioned that I worked at the local farmer's market a few summers ago. My job, among other things. was to process food stamp payments for the entire market. It was the first year that the market had accepted food stamps, and it was a big hit.

The program has grown since then, and I'm glad to see that that's the case. Why?

I'm sure that in one of my recent tirades I've mentioned that corn is in everything. It's used as a binder, a thickener, a sweetener, a preservative: you name it. It's in everything precisely because the government subsidizes the growing of corn. This means it costs almost nothing to use corn ingredients in one's products. People with limited incomes can stretch their dollar further by buying these products, and consequently they have the worst diets in the country. Meanwhile, these buying habits just reinforce the inclusion of corn-based products in virtual everything.

Food stamps at farmer's markets help the good guys win.

First, farmers can sell produce for cheaper while making more money. Farmers lose a lot of potential income when they sell to grocery stores because those grocery stores have to factor in overhead when calculating their buying price. Selling directly to the consumer saves everyone money.

Second, people with limited incomes are able to buy healthy foods which they would often pass up in grocery stores on account of price. Because the money is going from the food stamp program to the local farmers, it's helping to stimulate the local economy.

Third, because this food is local, and often organic, it's reducing the farm-to-fork miles contributed by one of the most offending demographics. Unfortunately, this demographic has very little control themselves, and are jerked around by what they're able to afford. Programs like this help them make healthy choices for themselves, for the planet, and for the local economy.

The unfortunate thing is that it is cost prohibitive for most farmer's markets to start a food stamp program. The necessary equipment costs thousands of dollars. Check to see if your local farmer's market has a food stamp program, and if not, you can help by looking into getting grants to start one, or by organizing a fundraiser to come up with the necessary funds.

On top of the benefits to this underserved demographic, however, is the fact that the same equipment will allow the farmer's market to collect credit and debit card payments as well. The ease of buying that this has created for our market has meant better profits for our farmers, and a well-fed community.

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