Farmers Markets Become Key Weapon in Combating Food Deserts

Rachel Cernansky reports on the federal government's recently announced plan to expand access to healthy foods by increasing Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) acceptance at America's farmers markets.
May 10, 2012, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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According to Cernasky, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is putting its money where its mouth is, by funding the expansion of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) or "food stamp" acceptance at farmers markets across the country.

"Expanding SNAP at farmers markets is part of the agency's broader approach to increasing healthy food access for low-income communities that lack adequate grocery stores and public transportation - areas known (if sometimes controversially so) as food deserts," notes Cernasky.

The initiative seeks to expand and build on successes gained in just the past four years as SNAP spending at farmers markets increased by 400 percent -- "and that's with less than a quarter of the country's 7,000 markets participating in the program."

"'Twenty years ago or more, people thought this was something for the elite. Clearly that's not the case, and the expansion of farmers markets with EBT has really proven that,' [USDA deputy secretary Kathleen] Merrigan added. And she's optimistic that more time spent at these markets can lead to other healthy lifestyle shifts as well. 'Hopefully some of those people are going to farmers markets on their bikes and walking,' she said."

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Published on Wednesday, May 9, 2012 in Grist
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