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Food Stamp Use at NYC Greenmarkets Doubled Last Year

Over the past couple of years, New York's City Council has spent $1.3 billion equipping farmers' markets with machines that can process food...

Over the past couple of years, New York's City Council has spent $1.3 million equipping farmers' markets with machines that can process food stamps. New data seems to show that investment paying off, as today's New York Daily News reports:


Open-air greenmarkets are now a destination for low-income New Yorkers, who spent more than $500,000 in food stamps last year at 40 markets around the city.

That's roughly twice the $251,000 in food stamps spent at greenmarkets in 2009.

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Cynics might ascribe much of that increase to a general rise in food stamp use ever since the economic meltdown of 2008. However, according to data from the New York state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, the number of individuals claiming food stamp benefits in New York City in October 2010 had increased by less than 200,000 people from 2009 figures. So City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who has also been at the forefront of developing a city-wide food policy for New York, is perfectly justified in presenting this data as a success story:

This unequivocally proves that low-income people desperately want fresh fruits and vegetables. There's also half a million dollars that upstate and regional farms are now getting that they otherwise wouldn't be.

Fulfilling consumer demand and supporting local farmers are not the only reasons to encourage farmers' markets to accept food stamps: Given the relationship between poverty and obesity in America, the potential health benefits are immense. A 2008 study carried out by UCLA researchers found that participants in the federal WIC nutrition assistance program who were given vouchers to shop at farmers' markets ended up consuming three extra servings of fruit and vegetables per day, compared to their peers whose purchases were restricted to grocery stores.

As we reported last March, many states, but by no means all, have agreed to fund programs to facilitate the use of food stamps at farmers’ markets around the country. For example, only 36 states are signed up to the WIC Farmers Market nutrition program (the refuseniks, FYI, are Colorado, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Utah, Virginia, and Wyoming). Some obstacles to wider adoption include the expense of installing electronic benefit terminals, as well as the bureaucracy involved in certifying farmers and farmers' markets according to WIC standards.

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Still, thanks to innovative ideas and federal, local, and nonprofit investment around the country, we're gradually making progress. Hopefully, today's announcement from New York City will ensure that farmers' market access expands even more rapidly in 2011.

Photo from GrowNYC's 2009 EBT Progress Report (pdf). Map shows states enrolled in the USDA's Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, as of April 2010.

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