Thursday, August 9, 2007

Food for the Poor - Los Angeles and Beyond

Per Which Way, L.A., “LA County has an average of one supermarket for every 18,000 people, but in South LA it’s just one for every 28,000.” Pompea Smith, Executive Director of Sustainable Economic Enterprises of Los Angeles, breaks it down by telling us that in a 1.5 square mile part of Los Angeles, there are:

8 Restaurants
39 Liquor Stores
50 Fast Food Restaurants
4 Grocery Stores, all clumped together

An environment like this offers little access to healthy foods like fruits and vegetables, and a surplus of the unhealthiest foods which are loaded with highly refined sugar, trans fats, and empty calories.

On that unpleasant note, a glimmer of hope. The grand opening of the Watts Healthy Farmers Market was on Saturday, July 21, 2007. Going forward, the farmers market will be held weekly on Saturdays from 10:00am until 2:00pm and is located at Ted Watkins Memorial Park, 103rd and Central Avenue, Los Angeles. Personally, I think this is a great achievement for the community, and for the farmers who have another outlet for their fresh goodies.

Lower socioeconomic areas have populations who struggle to survive, and food is a crucial part of that struggle. The Tao of Making Money’s post on the poor in America tells us that per 2002 US Census data, there were about 35 million “poor” Americans as defined by the following thresholds:

Single person: $9,183
Two person household: $11,756
Three person household: $14,348
Four person household: $18,392

Living frugal is great; a responsible way to save both money and the environment. Living frugal to survive is hard. There are no days off. How could any person or family pay serious medical expenses on this kind of income? Even just a small emergency could result in serious repercussions. Heck, preventative care is unattainable without medical insurance provided by an outside source (e.g., employer, government)!

But I digress. Food is my current point of concern. The inclusion of a farmers' market in a part of town experiencing a lack of grocery stores in conjunction with an increase in medical problems, partially caused by poor nutrition, is exciting. And if you think that impoverished consumers will be unable to take advantage of this new resource, consider these current options:

  • Electronic Balance Transfer (EBT), aka Food Stamps, can be used throughout Caliornia at farmers’ markets, produce stands, and similar open air markets, as well as individual produce stands, fish vendors, and flea markets.
    Other participating states:
    Connecticut, Maine, Massachusettes, New Hampshire, New York, District of Columbia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Texas, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin, Iowa, Kansas, Arizona, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon, Washington

  • WIC is the popular name for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children that provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education at no cost to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women, and to infants and children up to 5 years of age, who are found to be at nutritional risk. The Farmers Market Nutritional Program (FNMP) was established to provide fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to WIC participants, and to expand the awareness, use of and sales at farmers’ markets. Eligible WIC participants are issued FMNP coupons in addition to their regular WIC food instruments. Each state agency develops a list of fresh, unprepared locally grown, fruits, vegetables and herbs that can be purchased with these coupons from farmers, farmers markets’ and roadside stands that have been approved by the State agency to accept FMNP coupons.

    The FMNP is currently authorized in certain areas of 45 States: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, the Chickasaw Nation, California, Connecticut, District of Columbia, Five Sandoval Indian Pueblos, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Mississippi Choctaw, Montana, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Osage Tribal Council, Pennsylvania, Pueblo of San Felipe, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

  • The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is a program in which grants are awarded to States, U.S. Territories, and Indian tribal governments to provide coupons to low-income seniors that can be used to buy eligible foods at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs. In an effort to eliminate barriers to access, several programs are providing seniors with transportation to and from the markets through a partnership with senior centers or have arranged for local growers to take their produce directly to senior housing facilities. Eligible are low-income seniors, generally defined as individuals who are at least 60 years old and who have household incomes of not more than 185% of the federal poverty income guidelines (published each year by the Department of Health and Human Services), are the targeted recipients of SFMNP benefits. A list of participating states along with agency contact information is here.

    Per the USDA’s Food & Nutrition Service website, the purpose of the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program is to:

    1. Provide resources in the form of fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs from farmers' markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture programs to low-income seniors,

    2. Increase the domestic consumption of agricultural commodities by expanding or aiding in the expansion of domestic farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community support agriculture programs, and

    3. Develop or aid in the development of new and additional farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community support agriculture programs.

I had no idea that there were so many federal and state programs working to increase the viability of farmers markets, and making them more accessible to those most in danger of malnutrition. The Watts Healthy Farmers Market sounds like it's doing well, and I can't express how good that makes me feel. For the farmers, the community, and the kids who will learn straight from the farmer what good food is.