Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Farmers’ markets should accept ‘food stamps’

Assembly Bill 537, authored by State Assemblymember Juan Arambula, would require farmers’ markets to accept the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card that is commonly referred to as “food stamps.” I believe this is an idea worth supporting.

Logo: SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
When I learned of this bill, I e-mailed managers of the Lake County markets, asking if their markets accept EBT. I was pleased to learn from JoAnn Saccato that the Lake County Community Co-op is hoping to make this a priority for next year’s Friday Night Farmers’ Market and the co-op.

Women, Infants & Children (WIC) receives farmers’ market vouchers, at $20 per family as a one time only each year, according to Carol Roberts, program assistant with E Center WIC in Lakeport. “These farmers’ market vouchers are good for fresh fruits and vegetables at certified farmers’ markets to certified farmers only.  There are three certified farmers’ markets in Lake County.  They are Clearlake at Redbud Park, Lakeport at Library Park and Kelseyville at Steele Winery.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides assistance to more than 40 million people every month. Almost one year ago, when I quoted this agency, the figure was at 28 million, with 12 million more people believed to qualify who had not signed up.

So during the intervening year, the number of people in need may have grown or people who were already in need may have become better aware of a service available to them. Perhaps it’s a combination of both.

A story on the Web site of KGO television station reported that enrollment in the “food stamp” program grew by more than 40 percent in California from the fall of 2007 to 2009. But according to the same article, the vast majority of California’s farmers’ markets only accept cash -- which shuts the door upon EBT recipients who may want more access to fresh fruits and vegetables.

“Low-income individuals, families often times don’t have access to the same quality food as other people; there simply aren’t the stores available or they don’t offer the same quality," the article quotes Arambula as saying.

Assembly Bill 537 would require farmers’ markets to have at least one terminal that accepts the EBT card.

I believe that food assistance services are vitally necessary in conjunction with farmers’ markets and food cooperatives. Many people believe it to be much healthier to buy food that was produced within the 100-mile radius that designates it locally-grown. “Locavores,” people who try to eat only locally-grown food,  should be spared the dilemma of an economic hardship that curtails their ability to support local food producers.

If it takes a law to bring farmers’ markets online to accept EBT, then it’s a law I support -- but how much better if suppliers of locally-grown food take these steps proactively without the requirement of law.

In the meantime, I’d encourage any market, co-op or CSA supplier already accepting WIC or EBT to consider making communication of that fact, an important part of its marketing strategy. Don’t make potential consumers have to ask and don’t assume they already know.

I hope that in these difficult times, our co-op and farmers’ markets will partner with government assistance programs to ensure that fresh-grown food, provided by a local farmer, remains available to Lake County consumers.

SNAP benefits are issued in Lake County through the Department of Social Services. Visit www.c4yourself.com/c4yourself/ to submit an application online.

For more information about electronic food-assistance benefits, see www.fns.usda.gov/snap/. To read more about AB 537, visit http://abclocal.go.com/kgo/story?section=news/politics&id=7274941. To track the bill’s progress in the California Legislature, visit www.leginfo.ca.gov

Published Aug. 3, 2010 in the Lake County Record-Bee

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