Friday, August 17, 2012

Just peachy

Yesterday, I had the good fortune to spend a few hours at the Crossroads farmers' market playing with fresh, local kale and peaches in a variation on my favorite massaged kale salad -- this time with a lovely honey vinaigrette. A steady stream of folks from eight-year-olds to eighty-year-olds scarfed samples as quickly as I could set them out. I love kids who love kale, even if none of us could definitively determine the Spanish word for my most favorite leafy green....

When I wasn't mangling the Spanish language during the cooking demonstration itself -- actually, we collectively decided on col rizada ("curly member of the cabbage family") for kale, and I only mixed up pepino (cucumber) and pimiento (pepper) a few times -- I had a great time listening to families, kids, and seniors happily chat with me about their favorite things to buy at the market and what they liked to cook at home. It made my heart smile. I've never seen such a successful connection of families in need with local farmers as I have at this market.

Crossroads is perhaps one of my favorite markets in the greater DC area, and it's really a pity that I don't make it out to this Wednesday afternoon gathering more often. It's especially great when Michelle and Michele -- Takoma Park's dynamic duo -- are in attendance, as they were yesterday. No, I promise it's not just because the women making pupusas are always trying to feed me and get me to drink their hibiscus tea. I always learn so much while I'm there about what a real community is all about, as well as important policy goings-on. (And, okay, fine, I may once again have left with a pannierful of beautiful, seasonal produce.)

During a brief lull in the bustling activity, Michelle clued me in on a very serious matter of food access currently on the government's chopping block: a pending $16.5 billion cut to SNAP -- the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka food stamps) -- was recently proposed in the House Agriculture Committee’s Farm Bill. Mind you, SNAP enrollment has gone up 70% since 2007, with roughly 1 in 8 Marylanders benefitting from the program, and a comparable number in DC. At a time when SNAP participation is at an all-time high, and the public health community is growing hoarse from shouting about the obesity epidemic and the need for more widespread healthy food choices, the House version of the Farm Bill up for debate would remove 2-3 million people from the program nationally and nearly 300,000 schoolchildren would lose their free meals. Because poor kids must learn better on an empty stomach? That will surely help break the cycle of poverty. Yes, this is just peachy....

Ugh! Who makes these decisions??

The Crossroads team was not about to take this blow to local food security sitting down. For the three hours I was at the market, I noticed many families bringing red construction paper cutouts of apples to the information table. Turns out they're part of a campaign to save critical food assistance, visuals that regular market patrons were filling out to illustrate the vast number of families that food stamps support with fresh fruits and vegetables. The "Paper Apple Campaign" asks Marylanders to draw or write their solution to hunger in Maryland. According to Maryland Hunger Solutions, "since launching in December 2011, more than 800 apples have been collected, coming from every county. In the past month alone, hundreds of apples with the message of “SNAP Works” have been collected. Apples are pouring in from senior citizens, service providers, kids, the faith community, advocates, and parents who have turned to SNAP to help feed their families." The apples collected at yesterday's Crossroads market were to be delivered to some key officials today, namely the district offices of Representatives Steny Hoyer and Chris Van Hollen.

Is this something we could replicate in other states (and non-states like DC)? I sure hope so....

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