Conventional wisdom suggests that low income residents – especially those who receive food stamps – are often relegated to substandard or unhealthy food. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture contends it doesn’t have to be that way.
An official with the USDA and representatives of state government Tuesday braved the oppressive summer heat to visit the Alabama Farmer’s Market on Finley Avenue, and promote increased accessibility to fresh, quality produce to those who qualify for benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
“If we can get more low income people to go to farmer’s markets, they are much more likely to buy foods that are healthier for them and less processed,” said Kevin Concannon, the USDA’s undersecretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services. “It puts those dollars right in the local economy. Farmers get a much higher percentage of that when they sell at a farmer’s market than when it goes into the wholesale system. It benefits the grower and the consumers.”
Since the creation of the SNAP program in 2008, Alabama has benefited immensely, according to the USDA, through a boost for the economy as well as in the health of eligible recipients who may now benefit from healthier fruits and vegetables.
“We want to encourage people who are on SNAP to eat healthy foods,” said Alabama Department of Human Resources Commissioner Nancy Buckner. “We would like for people to utilize the farmer’s markets so that their children can grow up healthy. Overall, it keeps our healthcare costs down.”
Now that local farmer’s markets are equipped with devices that accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, SNAP redemptions have skyrocketed. Don Wambles, director of the Alabama Farmer’s Market Authority, explained that the USDA provides terminals to vendors which allow them to accept not only EBT cards, but credit and debit cards as well. Alabama SNAP redemptions alone jumped from $18,841 in 2008 to $165,393 in 2014, while the number of SNAP authorized farmers and markets jumped from 10 to 220, officials said.
The officials, including Alabama Agriculture Commissioner John McMillan visited Farmhouse Produce at the farmer’s market. Another reason for the official visit: the USDA wants to see the number of farmers, roadside farm stands and farmers markets which accept SNAP continue to increase.
Since 2008, the number of such businesses accepting “grew dramatically,” from 753 to in excess of 6,400, more than eight times the number these types of vendors accepting SNAP when the Obama Administration took office, according to a USDA press release. “These increases did not just happen,” Concannon said in the release. Expanding access for SNAP recipients to the fresh produce available at these outlets has been a top priority for the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), according to the agency.
Elderly or disabled individuals may also apply for benefits. For more information regarding SNAP benefits and eligibility, visit fns.usda.gov.