One thing that has always bugged me about the organic and local food movements has been how a large portion of the population cannot afford to buy it on a regular basis, if at all. This incongruity is what makes me sometimes cringe when immersed in discussions about affordable and healthy food. A great opportunity to bridge this gap is to allow food stamps to be used at farmers' markets.
Farmers markets offer fresh, local, often organic food at a very reasonable price. This year, as a VISTA with Utahans Against Hunger, I have assisted farmers' markets in Utah in implementing the food stamp program, providing them with start-up grant money, technical assistance, and outreach materials. For the 2011 season, 6 new markets (for a total of 10 in the state) started accepting food stamps and sold a total of $6,282 worth of food stamp tokens. This increased the state farmers' market food stamp total by over 30% since 2010.
Food stamp recipients have shown enthusiasm for the food stamp program at farmers' markets. Many stocked up on tomatoes, apples, and pears to bottle sauces, jams, and chutneys. Others came more regularly to get their fresh produce and bread for the week. All were very excited to be able to shop healthy, fresh, local food for the market season. And personally, it was great to be part of the local and organic food movement by increasing access to it.