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Food Stamps at Farmers Markets

Audio

Aired 10/19/09

Four San Diego County farmers markets are now accepting food stamps in an effort to encourage low income families to eat more fruits and vegetables. We take a look at the program and its impact on the community.

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Above: In an effort to offer healthy fruits and vegetables to residents in lower income neighborhoods, farmer's markets are accepting food stamps. The program benefits local farmers and residents.

ALAN RAY (Guest Host): You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Alan Ray in for Maureen Cavanaugh. The problem with food stamps is that they don't really go very far if you start trying to put healthy food on the table, particularly true at the supermarket. Now, if you could eliminate the middle man, the nutrition picture could change. That effectively is being done at a number of farmers markets around San Diego County right now. We’re joined on These Days by Michell Zive, executive director of the Network for a Healthy California, part of the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego. Good morning.

Modesto Garcia picks out fruits and vegetables from the local farmers' market in City Heights.
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Above: Modesto Garcia picks out fruits and vegetables from the local farmers' market in City Heights.

MICHELL ZIVE (Executive Director, Network for a Healthy California): Good morning.

RAY: And we’d be pleased if you’d join the conversation, 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. Four San Diego County farmers markets now accept food bank – food stamps, is that correct? Lakeside, San Marcos, Valley Center and now City Heights?

ZIVE: Yes, City Heights was actually the first one.

RAY: How difficult was it to get a farmers market to a place, obviously a low income neighborhood like City Heights?

ZIVE: It was very difficult. It was approximately a two year process where we had to convince everyone, community members, stakeholders, everyone that – farmers, that if you put a farmers market in a low income neighborhood, they will come but you have to have it there. And so we think of farmers markets as sort of a high income neighborhoods, you know, Solana Beach, Encinitas, La Jolla, Hillcrest, and so we really had to change the minds of the whole community essentially.

RAY: How did you go about doing that?

ZIVE: Well, a number of us got together, the Network for a Healthy California, International Rescue Committee, Price Charities, we just started forming a group saying let’s start talking to people, let’s start talking – San Diego Farm Bureau, let’s start talking to farmers and convincing them that by coming to City Heights and accepting food stamps, you can, indeed, make money.

RAY: Were there any administrative hurdles to getting food stamp acceptance? I mean, the government gives you the stamps. Do you have to take them a certain place? Can you – How do you do that within the Food Bank?

ZIVE: Right, well, the…

RAY: How do you do that? Do…

ZIVE: Anyone that has food stamps has, essentially, an EBT, electronic bank card so that they can make the transfer so you actually have to have that card in order to, you know, use it in the – at the City Heights Farmers Market.

RAY: Okay, what were the goals here? I presume, you know, getting city and country together is not a bad thing but that can’t have been what your ultimate goal was here.

ZIVE: No, our ultimate goal was to provide a place, a farmers market, where they – where people had access to affordable and culturally appropriate fruits and vegetables. That – You know, the thing is, is that I walked out of here, went down College Avenue, went to City Heights, which is about two miles away from the studio here, and I asked every single person on the street and I said, what do you need to – in order to be healthy? Every single person would tell me fruits and vegetables. Then why aren’t people doing it? What are only a third of adults getting fruits and vegetables? And it’s because they don’t have access to affordable fruits and vegetables. So our point was putting City Heights Farmers Market, having fruits and vegetables, culturally appropriate, affordable, because they can use their food stamps, that was – that was the main goal.

RAY: It’s – Has it been a challenge to get people in City Heights to eat more fruits and vegetables? I mean, you say they know they need to eat them but are they – do they – they know that on a conceptual level. Do they know that on a practical level?

ZIVE: Right. So the deal is, is that if you go to the grocery store, you can buy macaroni and cheese for seventy-five cents. Or you can buy…

RAY: And that’ll feed four.

ZIVE: Exactly. Or you can buy two or three tomatoes. I mean, so what’re you going to do? What is the consumer going to do when they only have a certain amount of money for food to feed a family? They’re not going to go buying fruits and vegetables. So we look at the City Heights Farmers Market as a supplement, as here’s an opportunity to use those foods stamp money (sic) towards buying fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement macaroni and cheese, to supplement Cup-O-Noodles, to supplement those things.

RAY: Has there been any resistance within City Heights? Were there – Did you have a problem finding a place actually just to physically put a market?

ZIVE: That is a great question. We actually had a lot of problem with zoning, whatever that means. But there seemed to be a no – not in my backyard kind of…

RAY: Zoning actually means you can’t do what you want to do where you want to do it. That’s what it means.

ZIVE: That’s exactly what happened, over and over again. So, you know, the City would say, no, you can’t put it there. You know, the, you know, private, you know, residents, you can’t put it there. I mean, there was a lot of hurdles and finally we found a place, essentially a parking lot where it opened it up. Now, here’s the deal. Not one person, no matter who they were, community, stakeholders, you know, administrators, whatever, not one person has said get rid of that City Heights Farmers Market. Everyone has been supportive. Once it was there, everyone has been supportive.

RAY: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Alan Ray in for Maureen Cavanaugh. We’re talking with Michell Zive. She is the executive director of the Network for a Healthy California. It’s part of the Department of Pediatrics at UCSD. And we’re talking about food stamps going into farmers markets, particularly the farmers market in City Heights. How long has that farmers market been in operation?

ZIVE: A little bit over a year.

RAY: Okay. And is it – have you learned things there that would make it possible for you to go into, say, Barrio Logan or someplace else and do the same thing?

ZIVE: Yeah, as a result of the City Heights Farmers Market, four other places are now accepting EBT. So – And this is without being – it really being evaluated, meaning how much money was being brought in, how much EBT was being brought in. People loved the model of it and said, my goodness, we’re going to put it, you know, in other areas. So it’s been very successful in terms of being, like I said, sort of the role model for other EBT accessible markets.

RAY: Now you’re part of the Department of Pediatrics so…

ZIVE: Umm-hmm.

RAY: …I’ve got to guess that your real focus here w – how ever you can get through the parents to the kids, was the kids.

ZIVE: Yeah, a lot of our projects are centered around children but we’ve experienced a name change. We used to be called Community Pediatrics but really it is families. And in this instance, it’s – it is children and their parents, obviously, but we – we’re interested in anyone in the low income neighborhoods eating more fresh fruits and vegetables.

RAY: Now does this give you a chance to expand education beyond just nutrition if you deal with the people in the farmers markets?

ZIVE: Yeah, you know, the – You know, City Heights is very unique. There’s – People are from 40 different countries, or 60 different countries, speak 40 different languages. It’s a very unique area. They – they’re from countries where they have these open-air cultural markets so it’s not just about the fresh fruits and vegetables but it’s doing community outreach, it’s signing people up for food stamps, so there’s a lot of opportunities and – at the open-air market.

RAY: Do you have another market – a place now you plan to go with another market in the city?

ZIVE: Mission Valley just opened up so I believe they’re accepting EBTs. You know, here’s the thing, they’ve been successful in establishing them. There used to be one, I think, in National City and it all – and it’s gone now, and the reason for that is everyone’s really excited about this idea but you have to put some money into advertising and getting people continually excited about them.

RAY: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. We’re talking with Michell Zive, executive director of the Network for a Healthy California, and we’re talking about farmers markets in places like City Heights. You can join the conversation at 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. And we’re back after this.

RAY: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. I’m Alan Ray in for Maureen Cavanaugh. We’re talking about farmers markets and food stamps and the fact they finally have managed to bring those two things together. It’s very cool. We’re joined on These Days by Michell Zive. She is the executive director of the Network for a Healthy California, part of the Department of Pediatrics at UC San Diego. You can join the conversation, please, 1-888-895-5727, 1-888-895-KPBS. There’s a program called Fresh Funds. Can you talk about that?

ZIVE: Yeah, Fresh Funds was developed to match those WIC vouchers, Women, Infants and Children’s vouchers, senior vouchers, and also EBT realizing that up for every five dollars they put in in terms of food stamps and those kinds of monies, that they would match, meaning City Heights Farmers Market would match with another five dollars. So you now have doubled the amount of money that you can spend with – for Fresh Fund. It’s – The problem is, is that it’s – we need to find other foundations and things to support that. It’s been very successful. It’s one of the reasons why we have so many people into the farmers market but it’s – the pot is sort of limited and so we’re always sort of running after finding more money to do that.

RAY: Well, you’re not talking about a small reservoir of people who might be potential customers here. 25,000 people in City Heights alone eligible for food stamps.

ZIVE: Yeah, the problem is in San Diego County, we have the worst food stamp recipient rate. 26% of those that actually can get food stamps receive them. And there’s a lot of reasons for that I won’t go into. Our – We do actually process food stamps applications or pre-applications, I should say, at the farmers market. We really want to make sure that people are getting this supplemental nutrition program in order to eat more fruits and vegetables.

RAY: You’re listening to These Days on KPBS. Back to the phones. Paul in Del Cerro. Good morning, you’re on KPBS.

PAUL (Caller, Del Cerro): Hi. Good morning.

ZIVE: Good morning.

PAUL: Yes, Michell, I am a local resident and I’m also a farmers market personnel and I do support a farmers market. Not only that, I do have a booth at your farmers market.

ZIVE: Umm-hmm.

PAUL: And while we don’t sell fruits and vegetable, we’re a whole grain vegan company and we also promote healthy living and give a good alternative to maybe meats and some of the other things where people do have allergies and some, in some case, cannot enjoy that. And we think what we’re doing is also part of what you’re doing but how do we get into the mix of also accepting the EBTs and all that stuff where people do need and sometimes are not aware and sometimes not able to afford stuff like we produce, we’re fresh vegan vegetarian supplements?

ZIVE: That’s a awesome question. I think there’s a lot of opportunities for people such as yourself. The problem is, is that right now food stamps are only allocated towards – or, I should say, when you go to farmers market, are only allocated towards fresh produce. They cannot buy, you know, vegan products. They cannot buy, you know, crafts or other hot – hot food vendors, which has been an issue at actually City Heights Farmers Market. So I like what you’re doing. I don’t know if there will be opportunities with accepting EBTs or food stamps but I hope in the future that we can actually open that up.

RAY: Now is that a federal policy?

ZIVE: Yes, absolutely.

RAY: Okay. 11,000 people actually registered and used food stamps. Two hundred of those people shop at the farmers market. How much money are we talking about here in a week? Or how much money in a year at the farmers market in City Heights?

ZIVE: Well, the – in a year, we’ve made almost $200,000 and that’s EBT, cash, all those other things. About 15% of those sales are from EBT.

RAY: You had some resistance, I understand, at the beginning from the actual producers, the vendors, the people who grow the produce that they would bring to the market. How did that resolved itself?

ZIVE: Yeah. San Diego Farm Bureau has been awesome. They understood the importance of bringing farmers to low income neighborhoods. They understood the importance of having EBT accessible. So they did a lot of brokering and going to them and saying, listen, just let’s do it. And it’s been very successful for the farmers because they actually are the ones that accept Fresh Fund and EBT.

RAY: Okay. Do you have the sense that there’s going to be any kind of a policy change that might allow, for instance, prepared food or vegan foods at some point in the future to be bought with EBTs?

ZIVE: I’m not so sure that’s going to happen because look at – look at the problem with already getting enough people to be on food stamps. And right now I think our focus should be on fruits and vegetables. Again, only a third of adults eat enough fruit – the recommended fruits and vegetables, so I think that’s really where our hearts should be. But let me tell you, for every dollar that EBT is spent, five more dollars go into the community.

RAY: Okay. You are part of the Department of Pediatrics…

ZIVE: Umm-hmm.

RAY: …as we mentioned at UCSD. Is there any educational component for the university in what you’re doing here? Or is this a university outreach program?

ZIVE: No, Network for a Healthy California, which is what we’re part of, which was formerly known as the Five A Day program, we actually do social marketing campaign. We get out there and teach people how to cook fruits and vegetables, how to add them to their diets, how to be physically active, so there’s definitely a nutrition education program. Because, again, people know that they should be eating fruits and vegetables. Now they have the opportunity to buy fruits and vegetables. Now what?

RAY: Let me ask – You mentioned people from 40 different countries, 40 different cultures in City Heights…

ZIVE: Umm-hmm.

RAY: …possibly going to this farmers market.

ZIVE: Umm-hmm.

RAY: Do you find people from these different cultures now maybe getting closer to each other cross-culturally than they might’ve been before?

ZIVE: I would say that that definitely is a feeling, that if you walk down the aisle of the farmers market, you will see a variety of different ethnicities, and it’s awesome. And we did a focus group on people that actually shopped at farmers market and none of them identified themselves as a certain ethnicity. They identified themself (sic) as a City Heights Farmers Market. So it’s almost its own sort of like culture or its own, you know, communi – It is, it’s its own community and they’re very excited about supporting something that is brought into City Heights.

RAY: Do you have direct contact with the kids? Do you get the sense that the kids are actually learning what they need to know about nutrition as they grow?

ZIVE: Yeah, I think that, again, the Network for a Healthy California has really reached out and to the children and sort of had done – have done that. But let’s face it, most – still, the mothers are sort of the gatekeepers and so we’re also working with them in terms of what to buy, how to store, how to prepare fruits and vegetables.

RAY: Do you also help them? I mean, you do, you talk about how to prepare them. Do you have like cooking classes?

ZIVE: Yeah, well, cooking demos or taste tests at the actual farmers market.

RAY: Cool. Do you have any indication from people with the Farm Bureau that there might be more people out there wanting to be involved in the farmers market?

ZIVE: I would say yes. The problem actually is, is that we – San Diego has the largest amount of small farms in the country. A lot of it is palm trees and things that aren’t edible but there are a lot of edible things. There’s only a certain amount of those farmers that can participate in farmers markets. I mean, they make their money elsewhere. So the idea is that we’re very limited in terms of the number of farmers that come to farmers markets and if you have every single city in San Diego, you don’t maybe have enough farmers to go around.

RAY: Well, that’s a problem.

ZIVE: Yeah.

RAY: We’ll have to grow more farmers.

ZIVE: Yeah, that…

RAY: Michell, thank you very much.

ZIVE: Yeah, thank you.

RAY: That’s Michell Zive, executive director of the Network for a Healthy California, part of the Department of Pediatrics at UCSD. I’m Alan Ray.

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