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Farmers' market vouchers can improve food security and nutrition in struggling families

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(NaturalNews) Attempts to improve food security -- i.e. knowing that one or one's family can eat next week -- with government aid programs like food stamps -- a.k.a. SNAP (Supplement Nutritional Assistance Program) -- and NGO food banks have limited success.

SNAP recipients tend to not resist their processed and fast food habits and opt to buy garbage, while food banks do offer healthier foods, but they're not as accessible as grocery stores.

A new study was published in July 2014 to determine the possibility of linking the burgeoning farmers' market movement to food vouchers for the not so well-off. This study was intended to observe the feasibility of getting those who need help buying food into fresher, healthier fruits and vegetables while boosting the viability of local farmers who sell at farmer's markets.

The farmers who frequent farmers' markets may not all be USDA "certified organic," due to the paperwork and expense of getting certified. But they generally use good, non-toxic farming techniques.

About the study

This study was entitled "Enhancing food security of low-income consumers: An investigation of financial incentives for use at farmers markets." It was conducted by researchers with the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University, and it was published in the journal Food Policy.

Lead author Carolyn Dimitri commented, "This is a great program to bring to local farmers markets, provided they are located in areas with many consumers that receive federal nutrition benefits."

The $10 vouchers used for this study enabled householders with limited incomes to purchase only produce, no baked goods or meats, with their vouchers in addition to using their own or SNAP funds, which no more than 25 percent of farmers' market vendors currently accept.

The study enrolled 281 women with limited budgets, many of whom were caring for children aged from two to 12 in three cities with farmers markets: New York, Boston and San Diego. The study ran for 12 to 16 weeks, depending on seasonal farmers' market runs.

The purpose of restricting the types of foods was to determine if this would encourage mothers to use fresh produce more than they would if they had shopped at other stores for groceries as well as to boost the viability of farmers' markets.

Out of the original 281 women involved, a total of 138 participants completed the study. Women who were older or situated in neighborhoods with access to food banks mostly dropped out of the study.

Over half of the 138 participants who finished the study claimed that they were inclined to eat more vegetables after using the farmers' market vouchers. Many of them had previously consumed very little fruits and vegetables before.

A new program called the "Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program" is part of the 2014 Federal Farm Bill. It provides incentives for people to use SNAP for buying more fruits and vegetables at local farmers' markets by doubling the purchasing power for produce. It's great for local farmers and can help create a healthier society.

This doubled-up purchasing power for federal benefits used at farmers' markets has been used locally in some states already with obvious success.

Darcy Freedman, a researcher at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland who wasn't involved with this study, was excited at how this could be incorporated within the new Farm Bill.

"I think this study is exciting because it shows that for those with very low levels of fruit and vegetable consumption, these incentives seemed very promising," she commented. "The first step is getting the farmers markets to accept SNAP, the second step is getting the [Farm Bill] incentive activated and then I think building on from there."

Sources for this study include:





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