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New Law Helps Low-Income Families Stretch Food Dollars

New Law Helps Low-Income Families Stretch Food Dollars
New Law Helps Low-Income Families Stretch Food Dollars
New Law Helps Low-Income Families Stretch Food Dollars GUESTS:Oran Hesterman, president and CEO, Fair Food NetworkAnchi Mei, manager, Food Security and Community Health Program, International Rescue Committee

A new law in California is a good helping low-income families stretch their food dollars in a healthy way. The California nutrition incentives act will leverage federal grants to provide a dollar for dollar match to people on the snap program who shop at farmers markets. The idea is to make fruits and vegetables more accessible to people struggling to afford food and provide a bigger market for local farmers. Recently spoke with two people who understand how significant this program can be. -- is president and CEO of the fair food network and -- is manager of the food security and community health program of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. Here is an interview. San Diego has been using the form of the dollar for dollar match at farmers markets. How is this new legislation different? Is going to the market match programs like brush fund that have been around since 2009. We run these programs you are wearing a million heads and juggling jobs like a dministering, setting up the market and grant writing, fundraising and securing money. Having this legislation will help California farmers markets have one less job in terms of grant writing and fundraising all the time to secure that money for the market match. For a long time a lot of recipients of government food programs who were not perhaps always choosing the best news at the grocery stores and sometimes those whose were not available, how has opening up the program to market match at farmers markets changed that? I think what we've seen here with fresh market match program locally over the years is people do want fresh fruits and vegetables. Low income people do want it because it has been incredibly popular and in demand. I think it under -- it is not about choice, it's about the cost and the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is so high especially compared to the surveillance about cheap a lot of processed foods are and a lot of the unhealthy foods. Just the popularity of this program shows the low-income people want and need more of the fresh fruit appealability in their communities and budgets. This new California law, AP 1321 how significant a move is that? I think it's a very significant move to see California, the largest agricultural state in the country with also a huge budget every year to pass this law. It means there is a recognition that healthy food incentives can be part of a healthy future for families and farmers in California. So the federal grant program requires funding from the public sector as well, do you see that as a challenge? What we're finding is setting up the food insecurity nutrition incentives federal programs as a public-private partnership is creating huge benefits. It's not solely a government program. It's not solely a program funded through charity and p hilanthropy. It's not solely a program funded through local government. It can be supported by all three which means this partnership brings everybody needs to be at the table around this issue to the table. Were defined that funds come from, nonprofits and charities? Most of the private funding for double a food box which is a program similar to market match we run in Michigan and about 13 other states, most of the funding comes from foundations. Private in family and community foundations. Tell us more about where you seen programs working well. We've seen double of food box and market match and other programs like it working well in both urban and rural c ommunities. In fact in Michigan where the program is in over 150 farmers markets across the state and about 25 grocery stores, it is growing faster in rural communities than in urban communities. We see it working across the board. When you have a program that helps families bring home more healthy foods while getting more money in the pocket of local farmers, keeping those who dollars in the local community and local economy is a win win and it is starting to work all over the country. I think probably now we should explain how this works. If somebody comes in with $20 worth of SNAP funds and part of this dollar for dollar match, what happens? What do they go home with with that $20? The match level varies depending on the market. Here in San Diego there are four market match programs. At the two might -- we are offering a $5 match. If they come with their $20 ready to spend we will swipe their card, give them $20 $20 in tokens and an additional $5 match for fresh fruit and vegetables at the market and they can come each week. There is no limit. At sand markers and Linda Vista markets, their market match is actually $10. The they can go home with $20 up fresh fruit and vegetables. They can spend 20 on the EBT and get an additional $10. About how many people are served by programs like this? Since 2000 and we served about 10,000 San Diego residents through the fresh food program. This year alone we are almost nearing 1000 at just the farmers markets. You mentioned there is a move to expand is beyond farmers markets. I understand you are involved in a pilot program in Northern California to put this in grocery stores. Correct. We have the double of food box program functioning in about 25 grocery stores in Michigan. About five grocery stores in Kansas City and in a conversation to bring that same model of double of food box is a pilot to some grocery stores in the San Jose area. Is there any resistance to this? We have found grocers like farmers are excited about this to serve the community with more portable fruits and vegetables while supporting will -- there are some challenges in terms of figuring out how to do the program in a grocery store. The setting in transaction process is different but no challenges that we are not able to meet and work with their grocers to get this program in place. Tell us about your organization, the fair food network, what is that? It is an organization started about six is ago and found it on a believe that vibrant local food systems can create health and economic opportunity for everybody in the community and especially important to match the ability of families in low income communities to access locally grown fruits and vegetables while at the same time supporting local farmers. So you see this as an overall economic engine for community? Absolutely. And economic engine for community creating jobs, creating more customer base for farmers but I also see it as a game changer in our food system. The largest single budget item in our federal food and agriculture budget is SNAP. It is about $75 billion a year and close at 80% of the federal dollars we spent in food and agriculture. I imagine what our food system and agriculture could look like if a small but significant part of those dollars were being spent on healthier food for families who needed and in the same dollar supporting local farmers and agriculture. It can really be a game changer and I'm so pleased we are starting to see the wild success with this program we are seeing in Michigan and in San Diego. What is your background in trying to make the country's food system more fair? It starts in California. I'm a native Californian. I started my career as an organic farmer in the Santa Cruz area. I was growing alfalfa sprouts as a business for most of the 70s in Northern California but then decided I needed to learn what agriculture outside of California, which is like its own country, I decided I needed to go to the Midwest were big agate soybean and corn country wise so I finished my undergrad education at UC Davis here in California and went to the University of Minnesota to do a doctorate in agronomy and plant genetics. I spent time in a great academic institution, Ms. Again state University -- Michigan State University and work at the WK Kellogg foundation helping to fund programs across the country trying to create a more vibrant local food systems. The first incentive program all of the programs we are talking about today, market match, fresh fund and double up food bucks was a program we supported at the Kellogg foundation at the crossroads farmers market in Maryland. I have seen this program from lots of angles. I am thrilled we now have federal funds and federal legislation to up supported and now California we actually have the kind of legislation that is going to help bring a bright future to this approach. You talk about California as being like a country unto itself in terms of agriculture, I think a lot of us don't really remember that would even have that on our radar screen about what a big agricultural state California actually is. I believe easy look at the agriculture economy in California it would rank as the fifth highest agriculture economy in the world. There are only four other countries that have a large egg economy. It's interesting sitting here now as a native Californian, California and Michigan are the states in the country with the most diverse agriculture. The only state that grows a greater diversity of crops then Michigan is California. As you know, being a native Californian and keeping up with us that we are in a drought and we are anticipating now a huge dump of rain from El Niño. As a farmer and agriculture expert, how do we protect our crops from these extreme read the conditions so there is not a shortage of supply either in farmers markets or anywhere e lse? This is not only happening in California. It may not be drought but it could be floods or hailstorms. Our climate scientists have been predicting for a while that as the atmosphere warms we will see more ferocious kinds of weather events. More extreme weather, whether it is drought or floods, it can be either or. Our belief at fair food network is one of the best ways to protect against these kinds of extreme weather events is to create a more vibrant local food system so we are not so dependent on so few places. We need to create diverse agriculture in may places, much more localized than it is now and that's the best way to mitigate the kinds of extreme climate events and weather events we know are coming. That's exactly with the IRC is doing right here? You had a farm here in the city Heights? Absolutely. The climate change is making everything more volatile but farming has always been risky because of pests and whether so is all important to be supporting farmers markets. The two farmers markets IRC operates have a significant about of refugee farmers that sell and grow their food literally in the backyard of the farmers market at community gardens and urban forms. They are great part of the market. The ethnic cultural diversity of the crops they bring in being up to support refugees and increase their income. Definitely $100 a market day which can be 40% of their total house could income per month. Having market match is also not just supporting healthy food consumption the beginning farmers from all over the world establish their lives but also create new farming farms. Since you have such a wealth of information in the refugees who come here and have been farmers in other places around the world, how is the prospect of El Niño, how are they taking the idea that they may be seeing quite a bit of rainfall this fall in winter in terms of the crops they are growing and how they are maintaining the farms? I think what we're dealing with is grappling with the increasing increase in water costs that creep coming year after year. This year -- are going to be increasing their water rates by almost 10%. For people who are working at the margins of poverty having a 20% increase in your water use and water rates can be significant. We are focused very much on water conservation. El Niño is really not going to put a dent in the four-year drought California has had. If anything it is going to provide more storm damage and more risk for farmers having to bear the cost of working on the land but long-term it really is what San Diego farmers have been doing which is on the cutting-edge of water conservation technologies and thinking about the best profitable crops for what it costs for them to grow. I want to thank you both for coming in and talking to us about this. -- is president and CEO of the fair food network and -- is manager of the food security and community health program of the International Rescue Committee in San Diego. Thanks very much. Thank you. Be sure to watch male evening edition at 5:00 and 6:30 tonight on KPBS television. Join us again tomorrow for discussions on midday edition right here on KPBS FM. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, thank you for listening.

A new California law will help low-income families stretch their food dollars with healthy food choices and support farmers by expanding their markets.

The California Nutrition Incentives Act will leverage federal grants to provide a dollar-for-dollar match to people who shop at farmers markets and who are on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

San Diego already has some similar programs like Fresh Fund, but this law will make it easier for farmers markets, said Anchi Mei, manager of Food Security and Community Health at the International Rescue Committee in San Diego.

"Low income people do want fresh fruits and vegetables," she said. "It's not about choice, it's about the cost, and the cost of fresh fruits and vegetables is just so high."

The popularity of existing programs shows the desire low-income shoppers have for fresh produce, she said.

Since 2009, the Fresh Fund program has served 10,000 San Diegans, she said. This year, the program is nearing 1,000 residents.

Fair Food Network president Oran Hesterman started the Double-Up-Food-Bucks program in Michigan and said its public-private partnership model works well. The same model will be used in California.

Hesterman, also the author of "Fair Food: Growing a Healthy, Sustainable Food System for All," is now working to expand it to grocery stores across the county.

"We have found that grocers, like farmers, are really excited about this," he said.


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