Agri Leader

SNAP benefits promotion shines spotlight on fresh food access

During these dog days of summer, the folks at the hydroponic farm, Hydro Harvest in Ruskin, believe their second annual Double Up Food Bucks promotion is a way to help stretch food dollars for those who are economically challenged.

SNAP benefits, once known as food stamps, are used by people who might otherwise have trouble paying for food. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to grow the number of farms and farmers’ markets across the country that accept SNAP benefits.

This month, SNAP benefits at Hydro Harvest are worth twice as much as they usually are for the purchase of fresh produce. “We want to encourage folks who may not have access to fresh, affordable food the opportunity to discover a garden of great food,” said co-owner Terrie Lawson. The farm is subsidizing the double benefit that customers will receive.

Although last year’s inaugural promotion was slower, traffic this month has been brisk, Lawson said. The farm has gotten out the word about the promotion through a weekly newsletter that goes to 10,000 email addresses and through word-of- mouth. Some local churches also have found out about the promotion and have informed their congregations.

August is an ideal month for the SNAP benefit promotion for a few reasons, Lawson explained. “It’s a month where we’ve got a farm full of end-of-summer vegetables,” she said, busting the notion that Florida doesn’t have fresh produce grown in the summer.

She said people visiting the farm are delighted to find okra, black eyed peas, peppers and eggplant, all of which thrive in the heat that makes the rest of us whither.

Lawson and her husband, John, also picked August because, at least for part of the month, the kids are still home from school, so struggling families may have trouble making their food budget stretch properly to cover three meals a day and snacks.

Plus, the farm’s produce is both fresh and usually better priced than what’s at the supermarket, she said.

Lawson wants everyone visiting Hydro Harvest, especially kids, to realize they can find affordable, farm-grown food year-round.

By visiting the farm, kids see that lettuce doesn’t come from bags and that cheese curls or frozen entrees shouldn’t be go-to food choices for any of us. “Children tend to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables when they grow or pick it themselves,” Lawson said.

The farm also has a 50 percent coupon it has offered through its newsletters that customers can use this month.

Hydro Harvest’s promotion is a great idea, but it’s not the only farm or farm market accepting SNAP.

In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has a website to help search nationwide for farmers’ markets that accept SNAP.

Hydro Harvest’s approach is yet one way to reach those who have trouble finding affordable fresh food in their community.

“Taking the produce to the less-populated areas—maybe biweekly or monthly partnering with convenience stores and produce stands—or offering classes outside of the farm on growing your own hydroponic produce are a few ideas to get nutritious produce from the farms to the rural areas,” said Sarah Krieger, a St. Petersburg-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

My column next week will focus on a farm business in northern Florida that’s using ideas similar to those that Krieger proposes. I’ll also talk about how, even in our bounty of fresh produce, Florida still has something called food deserts, which limit access to fresh, healthy food.