According to a poll commissioned by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, an overwhelming majority of Americans want the federal government to double the value of food stamp benefits at farmers markets to ensure "fair access" to healthy, locally grown foods. Furthermore, a majority of poll participants said all levels of government – federal, state and county – should get involved to ensure such access.
“Americans want produce that is healthy, affordable, green and fair,” reads a Kellogg Foundation press release. “We see strong support here for food that is good not only for the people eating it, but also for the people producing it.”
Michigan authorities pioneered the concept of doubling the value of food stamp benefits redeemed at markets for the purchase of local food. This inspired the Kellogg Foundation poll, which gauged public opinion on a mandate that would require farmers markets nationwide to implement a similar scheme. Since the release of the poll results in late May, at least 15 more states have jumped on board with their own versions of the program. Greeley Farmers Market in Colorado is the latest example with a program they call “SNAP it up!” Even if federal policy makers don't push the concept, the Greeley model of matching funds from grants by organizations such as Wholesome Wave might become the norm.
Does the aforementioned telephone survey of 800 Americans allude to policy that is truly fair, or would selectively increasing the purchasing power of food stamps at direct-to-consumer markets actually hurt Middle America, leading to an even bigger poverty problem down the road? With more than 1 out of 7 Americans now receiving food stamp benefits and the local food movement growing leaps and bounds since the onset of the latest recession, its a growing concern amongst consumers and local producers alike.
While proponents say that doubling SNAP benefits at farmers markets would help economically challenged residents increase their purchasing power of locally grown food and help drive revenue for local producers, those who are actually involved in local food production aren't as collectively gung-ho about the prospects and for good reason.
The immediate effect of Michigan's program to double the value of SNAP benefits at farmers markets came in the form of price gouging on fresh produce. Prices eventually came down, but still settled at a threshold that is too high for struggling middle class families who don't receive government assistance. The result in each state has been price inflation of locally produced food and an increased dependence on food stamps to maintain healthy diets.
Its a narrative that is summed up by Missouri resident Shannon Jones when she commented on a yesmagazine.org article announcing Michigan's “Double Up Food Bucks” program:
“I've often noticed that people on government assistance regularly eat more expensive meals then me and my family,” writes Jones. “I have a family of five at home with two grown children and one grandchild nearby. We occasionally have to help out the adult children as they are young and attempting to make it on their own in this struggling economy. I have a high five figure salary, and with some additional overtime can reach six figures on the gross. I do my best to provide healthy foods, locally grown fresh produce, and lean meats like, fish, chicken, and turkey. This healthier lifestyle has our grocery bill soaring up over $1000 per month with nearly no waste. My concern comes in the form of entitlement mentality...Does this doubling effort going on in Michigan increase the likelyhood of more entitlement mentality? ”
Dawn Thornton-Luty, a gardener and local food advocate in Central Florida approaches the issue from a different direction. Upon first hearing about the doubled SNAP benefits program she responded, “It sounds like farmers are being expected to accept half of what their fares are worth. Seems like a very clever way to hit the farmer again.” After researching how the program was implemented in Colorado and Tennessee, Dawn said she was more inclined to support the idea.
Still, it never hurts to analyze those first instincts that, if expressed, put you at risk of being labeled a serial contrarian.