Building health through our local food system

Published 10:00 pm Monday, April 6, 2015

Last week, a friend of mine commented about my most recent article on local food systems (March 17) and appreciated, she said, its sentiments, the calls to action, the big picture that it presented. She suggested that now I go into some specific ways to promote the ideas and what myself and many others conclude are what food systems should hope to accomplish: health, wealth, connectivity and capacity building.

During my reflections on specific examples of work to be done in these areas, I came to realize that while working away at the grassroots level, we also have to stay actively involved from the top down. We don’t have to recreate any wheels of state and federal involvements here, but rather practice some due diligence in researching and then joining in with those advocacy groups that are already in existence, already well-funded and networked within the legislative systems.

Two ideas that we have space to focus on today include protecting and improving the structure, eligibility rules and benefit levels in SNAP, and continuing support for the recent Farm to School Act of 2015.

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SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides low-income Americans with monthly benefits on an EBT card or Electronics Benefits Transfer. Advocacy and activism on the state and federal level can be done to help increase benefit levels which stagnate around $4 per day per person in a family. Who of us has ever tried to exist healthfully on that little bit of money?

“Hey, SNAP consumer. You can spend 50 cents today on breakfast, $1.50 today on lunch and $2 for your dinner. Bon appetit and good luck not getting sick.”

We can promote SNAP outreach with nutrition education programs. There is USDA and community money to help mount this. Visit

We can protect and improve healthy food access for SNAP consumers with SNAP retailer changes, mobile technology and Internet shopping.

SNAP retailers, as required by the 2014 Farm Bill, pay for the equipment they use to accept SNAP payments and are required to have product look-up systems in place that increase thresholds they must meet in supplying whole food options for purchase. Major grocery outlets, specialty food stores and farmers markets that accept tax-payer SNAP dollars, have no issue with this. Gas stations, Dollar Stores, and other Quick Stops approved to extract these finances out of healthier option business models? Not so much. But they are now required by law to improve.

The Farm Bill also created pilot projects to test the feasibility and implications of use of mobile payments in SNAP and of Internet purchases with SNAP. These pilots will be conducted over the next two years and, if successful, will permit mobile payments and online shopping by 2017. As SNAP retailers are required to pay for their own electronic systems that work with the EBT cards, there are also some subsidy programs in this area to pragmatically incubate those costs into the smaller business overhead.

The next area to continue supporting is the Farm to School Act of 2015. From school gardens to farm field trips to fruit and veggie taste tests in the cafeteria or classroom, communities have been working together to create a culture of nutritional health in schools, one that supports local farmers while getting their food to students in school. We must remain the watchdogs that keep state and federal legislative activity from rolling back the clock on the progress our communities have made.

We are coming up on the end of another school year. Visions of spring break, warm play days, and “graduation” to the next grade level are filling our heads. But this is also a planning time for next year’s successes at the table of local education. Families are the first ingredient in the recipes served at that table. And as we all know, for children and adults alike, every good and productive day begins, peaks, and ends with nutritious meals.

While in the public education system, our nation’s children eat two of their meals every day (plus snacks!) at school so what better place to invest in growing healthy kids? Farm to school programs are part of the solution; they introduce children to new and healthy food choices in the cafeteria, classroom, and garden, and encourage children to have healthy eating habits both at school and at home. Farm to school increases market opportunities for local farmers and supports community and economic development, making it a win-win for all.

It’s a long web address line to manually enter, but to sign a form showing Congress your support for the Farm to School Act of 2015, visit