Expanding access to fresh and local food is smart for people and the planet.
If anyone’s ever looking for me on a Sunday morning, they’d better head to the FreshFarm DuPont Circle Farmers’ Market.
I can’t resist the tables piled high with bright green lettuces, plump purple eggplants, and juicy peaches. There’s fresh goat cheese, a wide variety of local meats, and cold popsicles that make D.C.’s hotter days easier to bear.
The food isn’t even my favorite part of the market in this upscale, lively neighborhood. It’s the fact that its vendors take food stamps and that there’s a matching-dollar program for some customers.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eases hunger and poor nutrition by providing assistance to qualifying, low-income individuals. With nearly 50 million participants each year, SNAP is considered by the USDA to be one of the most effective anti-poverty government programs.
Those $5 pints of blueberries are out of reach for so many people. But programs like SNAP put these fruits on a lot of low-income tables. It helps the market shed the old stereotype of being simply a haven for women wearing Lululemon pants and toting Tory Burch handbags.
My favorite market is an integral part of D.C.’s local community that welcomes everyone.
And it’s not just happening here in the nation’s capital. The government recently reported that Americans spent $18.8 million in SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets last year, six times the amount in 2008. This increase is in large part due to grants the Obama administration issued.
Unfortunately, this constitutes only a small portion of total SNAP dollars spent each year. There are many remaining barriers choking off access to fresh and local produce, meats, and dairy products. But a healthy local-food economy is good for our society.
Poverty, hunger, and obesity are often inextricably linked. When people rely on corner stores and gas stations for their sustenance, they consume more salty snacks and sugary drinks and fewer fruits and vegetables than people with access to fully stocked grocery stores or markets.
Markets go a step further because what they sell tends to be organically grown, which decreases the chance it was introduced to pesticides. For meat-eaters, the animals on local farms have usually been humanely raised rather than crammed into huge factory farms. One of the best things about these markets is that you’re often interacting with farmers — so you can find out about your food directly from the source.
Besides, buying your green beans at a farmers’ market stimulates the economy three times more than getting them from a big retailer.
Markets also help you tread more lightly by reducing the distance your food travels from farm to fork. That broccoli you buy in a grocery store has been transported an average of 1,500 miles to make it to your dinner table. The trucks hauling that produce burn a lot of diesel fuel, stoking climate change.
Farmers’ markets are better for people, our communities, and our world. Although they’re becoming more accessible for all, I feel privileged to be able to shop at one every Sunday. Fresh and local food shouldn’t be an exclusive treat for the few. It’s a right for all.
Christine Dickason, an OtherWords intern at the Institute for Policy Studies, is a graduate of the University of Mississippi. Distributed via www.OtherWords.org.