D.C. Council to help low-income families access farmers’ markets

Smile.No one should be denied the happiness of a farmers’ market.

Every week, Georgetown students and faculty have the opportunity to buy fresh, local produce at the GU Farmers’ Market on Copley Lawn. From the famous Indian food cart to the delicious honey crisp apples to the heavenly cinnamon waffles, Georgetown has it all on Wednesday afternoons.

Not only do farmers’ markets bring healthy and tasty food to the public, but they also help improve relationships with the surrounding community, educate people about sustainable eating and living, and promote and support local businesses and economies.

For these reasons and more, District council-members Mary Cheh, Jack Evans, and Yvette Alexander have decided to help DC’s low-income residents gain greater access to the area’s farmers’ markets.

With hopes to expand and bolster the farmers’ market nutrition incentive programs, the councilmembers pushed to set aside $200,000 of the fiscal year 2014 budget for a program entitled “Aya Bonus Bucks,” according to a press release from D.C. Farmers Market Collaborative  and DC Greens.

These new funds lift a considerable burden on Dreaming Out Loud and other nonprofits that run farmers markets and have to raise funds to support such incentive programs without much government support.

Furthermore, the new allocation of funds for these programs, DC joins other major cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Boston, in allocating local funding for “bonus bucks” to increase healthy food access at farmers’ markets for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps), WIC (Women, Infants and Children), and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program recipients.

Thousands of low-income residents in the District will be affected by these additional funds. Beginning in spring of 2014, a SNAP recipient who redeems $5 of benefits will be able to purchase $10 worth of fresh, locally grown produce at participating farmers’ markets. The investment will allow SNAP recipients to afford healthier grocery choices, which will in turn have long-term benefits for both individuals and DC at large.

As executive director of non-profit DC Greens, Lauren Shweder Biel said, “This money will leverage the District’s existing farmers’ market infrastructure to play a greater role in healing the city’s health crisis.”

According to DC Greens, while D.C. has 82 school gardens and 30 farmers’ markets, one in eight District residents struggle to afford fresh fruit and vegetables. Furthermore, DC childhood obesity rates are well above the national average, with over 35 percent of children considered overweight or obese.

With these kinds of numbers, it’s shocking that DC officials and leaders have taken this long to start helping the farmers’ market initiatives and health and nutrition non-profit organizations. Nonetheless, non-profit leaders other prominent sustainability and nutrition advocates are grateful for these small steps.

“We are so grateful that the D.C. Council has emerged as a strong partner in our collective efforts to get healthy food into people’s hands and onto their plates,” said Biel in the press release.

Biel and other program advocates hope that the farmers’ market nutrition incentive programs will start to shift the eating habits of DC residents by expanding the amount of local, nutritious, and tasty produce that low-income residents can afford, while simultaneously supporting and strengthening local economies.

Photo: Errol Images Média

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