Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Food for all

After chores and breakfast on my first morning at Nothing But Nature, I tagged along with Phil as he ran errands at a few other local farms. We stopped by the first place, an orchard, to pick up apple cider vinegar for the afternoon's pickle making and chat about the sales at the previous weekend's market, then commandeered a delicious yellow seedless watermelon at the second farm where he had to return some crates. You see, Phil picks up crops from different farms and makes them available along with his own stuff at the markets he supplies. (A smaller carbon footprint in terms of transporting goods to market, to be sure...if you're into that kind of thing.) Phil and Diane are proponents of building the kind of community where rather than competing against each other, local farmers specialize in different things: various fruit and vegetable crops, cheeses, bread, eggs, honey, meat. Everybody wins. Oh, but it gets better.

As we ran our errands, Phil told me about an amazingly successful program in the area (10 counties in this part of Ohio) that for the past 6 years has been encouraging folks to buy local produce. Senior citizens receive a stack of coupons from the Department of Agriculture -- $50 each growing season -- that can only be used at farm stands and farmers markets. And boy do they get used. Coupons are in $5 increments, Phil told me, and since no change can be given when they are used folks have become pretty conscientious about utilizing every penny to get the best fresh, local produce each week. And after a little taste of the pea shoots or juicy cantelope samples, few can resist Phil's wares.

I've heard of nutrition initiatives like this in my own hometown -- at least up until the time I left DC in April, the WIC program (geared toward low-income women and children) gave out something like $25 per family per season in coupons -- but the senior program and WIC here in northwestern Ohio seem more widespread and successful. I'm not sure why that is, but I have a few ideas. I've heard from farmers elsewhere that such coupons are tedious and slow to be reimbursed; here in Oakwood the turnaround is something like 2 weeks from when a farmer mails them in to when he is paid. Not too shabby. In contrast, I recall hearing the timeline to be something like 2 months in the DC area. Not fair for the farmers, to be sure, and many farmers markets are simply not equipped to handle coupons or EBT (formerly food stamp) cards.

Now, the word on the street is that DC's Mayor Fenty has pushed to furnish more farmers markets with the equipment to process WIC and EBT credits. I've also heard rumors of a White House farmers market. I'm not sure what will come of either of these, but they seem to be steps in the right direction of making locally grown, organic food accessible to more people. Some may think these are no more than symbolic gestures from our nation's capitol. Maybe they are. But just as Michelle Obama's vegetable garden has gotten more folks talking about gardening and nutrition, so the DC spotlight on farmers markets may lead to policy changes to allow more equitable access to the fresh food they provide. And that can't be a bad thing.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I read up a bit more on the Ohio initiative for seniors and there are even specific guidelines to ensure that coupons are only valid for buying fresh, local produce. Non-local foods like bananas are right out. I'm not sure why eggs would be, though -- maybe to curb cholesterol intake? -- or dried herbs or maple syrup. It's not a perfect system, but it's a darn good one for now.


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