On Farmers and Food Stamps
In addition to setting agriculture policy, containing enormous subsidies for agribusiness (and little subsidies for good stuff), and occasionally undermining irradiated food labeling, the Farm Bill also sets policy for the school lunch program and food stamps.
In the weeks leading up to the Congressional debate on the Farm Bill Nutrition Title, several congress people have engaged in public experiments at eating on a food stamp budget (See: The Wonkette on Tim Ryan’s (D- )off-food stamp slip, The Sun Chronicle on Jame McGovern’s (D-MA) week, or The Queens Tribune on Eric Giola’s (D-NY) two pound weight gain while hungry experience).
For years now, conventional wisdom has held both that 1) due to a dearth of supermarkets and farmer‚ markets in poor neighborhoods and the plethora of high-markup convenience food stores, it‚ more expensive to eat if you are poor to begin with and 2) that it‚ more expensive to eat organic and local. While that first one is pretty true, the second one is not.
What‚ really expensive is processed food, whether organic or not (especially if you are pricing nutrients rather than pure calories). Supporting your local farmer, who may also be organic or at least farm less intensively than big ag, through farmer‚ markets or subscription programs like community supported agriculture (CSA) is highly economical. A group of students at Seattle University recently found that farmer‚ markets were even cheaper than the supermarket. Unfortunately, in an attempt to improve food stamps by eliminating the stamps and giving out debit cards, USDA and the state agencies that administer food stamps made it much harder for recipients to shop at their local farmer‚ market.
One article on Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton’s food stamp challenge in the Washington Post pointed out that there are 86,872 food stamp recipients in the District of Columbia. A quick search of the USDA website reveals that there is exactly one farmer‚ market with the capacity to accept debit cards from those potential customers.
There are a number of proposals to provide grant money to get debit machine technology for farmer‚ markets. Additionally, there is great work being done by groups like Just Food to bring urban residents and farmers together by setting up CSAs. Take a moment to check them out.
While you’re checking out websites, don’t miss this great slide show from Time Magazine titled What the World Eats.