Farmers and food security: how can we make food distribution equitable?

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As I discussed in my last post, local food systems rely on community connections to farmers and fresh food. Food distribution must be equitable and address all populations in need. Farmers Markets provide a public setting for the local food movement that can incorporate any income and cooking ability. These markets are the fastest growing direct to consumer food enterprise. Markets have tripled in number over the last 15 years and over 25% of farmers acquire a majority of their income from farmers markets (Young, Karpyn, Uy, Wich, & Glyn, 2011). Farmers markets link the urban and rural food systems and express the need for healthy, affordable food for all.  Farmers can accept food assistance credit and provide key knowledge to consumers about buying and preparing fresh food through farmers’ market stands or community supported agriculture (CSA).

There are a number of programs in place to make farmers’ markets more accessible for low-income individuals and families. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a national hunger safety net that offers financial assistance to people who are food insecure. Food security is a term to describe one’s access to safe and nutritious food that promote an active lifestyle (WHO). Under SNAP, there is the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) for Women Infant and Children (WIC) and seniors (SFMNP) (Owens & Veral, 2010). These are often transferred through the Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) system. FMNP coupons and SNAP credit can be redeemed at farmers markets, which enhances equitable access to healthy food. In 2008, over 28 million people in the US were enrolled in SNAP (49% of which are children), which equates to $35 billion dollars in nutritional benefits (Owens & Veral, 2010).

Farmers market programs have undoubtedly increased fruit and vegetable consumption for low-income women, seniors, and children (FRAC, 2013). However, there is always room for improvement. SNAP redemptions at farmers markets made up only 0.01% of the $64.4 billion total redemptions in 2010 (FRAC, 2013). There needs to be more authorized retailers and fewer barriers for low-income or working families (FRAC, 2013). Farmers markets should work on outreach, education, and transportation for SNAP recipients (FRAC, 2013).

Farmers markets can even advertise for CSA programs that accept SNAP/EBT to connect the movement between enterprises. CSA members, or “share-holders” can receive weekly packages of fresh produce supplied by a local farmer (FRAC, 2013, p. 10). These can be delivered or picked up at a convenient location. CSA farmers can accept SNAP or provide subsidized membership fee for low-income families. It is crucial that food venues reach out to nutrition program recipients to make the benefits and availability known.

Market access for farmers and healthy food access for consumers are interconnected requirements for a fair food system. Public food venues that are dedicated to fair food demonstrate that the state and future of what we eat is bound with a whole community, not an individual. In my next post, I will describe more ways that equitable food outlets have taken root in communities.

Food security. World Health Organization. Retrieved from: http://www.who.int/trade/glossary/story028/en/ 

Owens, N. & Verel, K. (2010). SNAP/EBT at your farmers market: Seven Steps to Success. Project for Public Spaces & Wholesome Wave. Retrieved from: http://www.pps.org/pdf/SNAP_EBT_Book.pdf

Young, C., Karpyn, A., Uy, N., Wich, K., & Glyn, J. (2011). Farmers markets in low income communities: Impact of community, environment, food programs, and public policy. Journal of the Community Development Society, 402, 208-220. doi: 10.1080/15575330.2010.551663

(2013). A review of strategies to bolster SNAP’s role in improving nutrition as well as food security. Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). Retrieved from: http://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/06/SNAPstrategies.pdf

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