Monday, February 2, 2009

‘Food Stamp’ program: Lake co-op should participate

During the year that my family has been a member of the Lake County Community Co-op, we have seen the economy worsen steadily. More and more people will need government assistance to meet the basic need for food.

Logo: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
The local co-op club has made strides this year to create growing opportunities for local consumers to interact directly with local producers of food. A Friday afternoon farmers’ market that took place during the summer was one such available venue, allowing consumers to meet face to face with the people who grew their food.

The Lake County Community co-op also operates a weekly buyers’ club.

Participants purchase a membership of $24 a year, $2 a month. The buying club accepts orders each week for boxes of fresh vegetables and fruits that are grown locally and regionally. Each week, the boxes’ contents vary depending upon what is in season.

Buying club members are not “subscribers;” their orders are not automatic but are purchased as the member desires.

The food is plucked fresh from the ground mere hours before it reaches the consumers. In her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, writer Barbara Kingsolver refers to the cost in “calories” that involve the use of fossil fuels to transport food over long distances. Our buying club has reduced those “calories” by purchasing food grown locally — within a distance of 100 miles.

The buying club began with a pick-up site on Lakeshore Drive in Clearlake. A few weeks ago, it added a pick-up site at Leonardis Organics on Argonaut Road in Lakeport — allowing north shore residents to further reduce the “calories” they burn in fossil fuels.

The co-op accepts cash, checks and online payments via a PayPal account. I propose that to this list, the co-op should add one other: an electronic benefit transfer card.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) puts healthy food on the tables of 28 million people each month. The agency estimates that approximately 12 million more people qualify but have not signed up.

The California Department of Social Services administers the Food Stamp program locally; visit to download an application.

As our economy worsens, more and more people will face an inability to meet the basic need for food and the USDA is asking for help to reach qualifying clients. “As food buying cooperatives, you are in a unique position to educate your members about the nutrition benefits of SNAP,” the agency states on its Web site.
“Food-buying cooperatives are eligible to apply for participation as SNAP retailers,” according to the USDA. “We recognize however that they have unique features that make them different from many other retailers that participate in the program.”

The USDA has set up an e-mail distribution list to allow the exchange of ideas and best practices among participating co-ops. It invites co-op members who would like to join the group, to please send an email to

Our local co-op could potentially enroll not only its buying club but also the farmers’ market that is slated to return this summer. According to the USDA, there are 52 farmers’ markets in California that are authorized to accept SNAP benefits.

I hope that in these difficult times, as our co-op continues to evolve, it will partner with government assistance to ensure that locally-grown foods remain available to local consumers. For more information about SNAP, visit the USDA Web site,

Published Feb. 24, 2009 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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