Article: Cultivating Equitable Access to Organic Foods (In Good Tilth)

The November/December In Good Tilth has an article I wrote “Cultivating Equitable Access to Organic Foods.” It focuses on efforts to increase the use of  Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets and other direct-to-farm sales venues to address two major barriers that lower-income individuals face in purchasing healthy, organically-grown foods: access and affordability. The piece outlines the issue, profiles markets and farms in the program and covers key policy issues and needs to continue growing participation. An excerpt is below. The full article is available as a PDF.

Cultivating Equitable Access to Organic Foods
Connecting food assistance recipients

Melissa Schweisguth
Oregon Tilth, November/December 2010

Our industry holds a vision of feeding the world organically, yet accessibility and cost can challenge those with limited incomes. Government initiatives designed to connect producers and Supplemental Nutrition Access Program (SNAP) recipients are beginning to address these, but many hands are needed to maximize their potential.

Where budget is a concern, whole foods including produce, animal products, grains, legumes and nuts are an affordable solution, far cheaper and often more nutritious than processed items. Savings, and producer benefits, are greatest when consumers purchase through direct channels such as Community Supported Agriculture programs (CSA’s), farms and farmers markets.

However, citizens in lower income brackets, such as SNAP users, may have difficulty accessing these. Many live in inner city or rural areas termed “food deserts” due to the absence of full-service groceries, let alone farmers markets or farms. They’re left to rely on local stores with mostly nutritionally unbalanced processed foods and limited produce and staples.

Though farmers markets and CSA’s are multiplying, less than 20% of markets accept SNAP, according to “Real Food, Real Choice: Connecting SNAP Recipients with Farmers Markets,” a report from the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC) and the Farmers Market Coalition. The report also notes that SNAP spending at famers markets used to be higher, but has decreased over 70 percent since 1994, when Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards replaced paper coupons and markets were suddenly unable to process them. Where markets accept SNAP, lack of transportation and awareness limit consumer participation.

To help close these gaps, USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has allocated expanded resources to enroll vendors and educate SNAP recipients about local options. As a result, SNAP redemption at farmers markets has increased since 2008, but the potential for growth is far greater. It benefits both producers and eaters to build participation. Food purveyors can gain revenue and support social equity values aligned with broader organic principles. Consumers receive better nutrition, addressing diet-related conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and avoid synthetic inputs and additives that negatively affect humans and the environment.

Organic farmers markets and growers are leading the way, providing examples for others. [text excerpted…]

The rest of the article profiles the Portland Farmers Market and the Siskiyou Sustainable Cooperative for their initiatives to become approved to accept SNAP and promote the program among consumers. It also includes

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