My mom worked hard to raise us, but with no college and limited skills, our income was equally limited. Mom spent her whole life doing the best she could for us. We lived in the “projects” and as a child I remember most nights going to bed hungry. Summers spent at my Grandmother’s house of plenty were what kept me going. Food programs were available back then but focused more on food rather than on good food, and there was never enough. It has taken a lifetime for me to overcome a childhood of poverty and give my children a better chance. Poor nutrition and poor quality food during childhood really impact your whole life; when you are hungry at school, hungry at bedtime, hungry when you go out to play, it is difficult to become your best self. We are not by any means affluent today but always have good food, partially made possible due to the increase in our farm income through SNAP available for redemption at Greenmarkets. Our business is not driven only by profit but the idea that everyone deserves to have good food on their table. No one should go to bed hungry in a country as affluent as ours. Since the first market day in 1976, GrowNYC has been dedicated to helping every New Yorker feed their family the best, freshest, healthiest food available by encouraging shoppers to spend their nutrition benefits at markets. All eligible Greenmarket farmers accept SNAP, Health Bucks, and the Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which not only ensure that everyone has access to fresh food but also provide important income to small farm businesses.
- Joel Klose, Nature’s Way Farm
At GrowNYC we know that the ability to feed your family fresh and healthy food begins with access. That’s why GrowNYC’s Healthy Exchange Project provides the framework for making healthy, regional food accessible to all New Yorkers by overseeing GrowNYC’s work to promote and accept SNAP/EBT, WIC Vegetable and Fruit Checks, and Farmers Market Nutrition Program Checks at all of our Greenmarkets.
From day one in 1976, Greenmarket farmers provided access to fresh produce for hungry New Yorkers when nutrition benefits were known as Food Stamps and were distributed on paper. In 2001, Congress mandated that SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) be converted from paper coupons to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards that are processed like a credit card. In 2004, when the first EBT cards were issued, family farmers who sold at outdoor markets without electricity or access to a telephone network suddenly lost a crucial income stream and shoppers using SNAP who relied on these markets for healthy food were deprived access.
In 2005, GrowNYC bridged this divide by partnering with the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets to implement a pilot payment model at three Greenmarkets. Rather than encouraging individual farmers to purchase a wireless terminal, the market manager operated a central terminal where EBT cards could be swiped in exchange for tokens to be spent at market. With continued funding from the New York City Council, Greenmarket expanded the program to six additional markets in 2006 and saw sales increase from $1,000 to $14,000.
Last year, EBT cards were accepted at all of our Greenmarkets and sales reached almost $1 million dollars across the five boroughs. For the family farmers in our program, this represents crucial income to help keep their farms in business while demonstrating to all of us that food insecure New Yorkers want to feed themselves and their families healthy foods.
While SNAP sales at Greenmarket have been impressive, they represent only a tiny fraction of the $3 billion dollars spent in SNAP benefits in New York City each year. Many New Yorkers don’t know that they can use their SNAP benefits at their local farmers market. They are not just missing out on fresher produce, but also the chance to stretch their benefits even further with the New York City Department of Health’s Health Buck program, an incentive program that provides $2 to spend on fruits and vegetables for every $5 someone spends in SNAP at a farmers market. This is a huge help when the average SNAP budget is around $4 a day to feed a family of four.
For this exact reason GrowNYC has launched the Oh SNAP! campaign. This educational campaign, conceived by the talented team at Edelman, created by artist Queen Andrea, and funded by the USDA can be found all over New York City — on city subways, buses, in local newspapers and on painted public murals throughout the five boroughs. The artwork is based on colorful and lively street art, characteristic of New York City, and engages viewers while promoting a positive message of healthy eating with SNAP benefits. We know the expanded awareness made possible through this campaign will significantly increase the amount of SNAP spent at city Greenmarkets, benefiting both the health of SNAP shoppers and their families and the prosperity of our region’s family farmers.
Want to learn more about GrowNYC and our $40 for 40 campaign? Visit http://www.grownyc.org/blog/greenmarket-40-40.