Mobilizing to put More Farm-Direct Produce into the Hands of a Greater Number of Consumers
Posted: August 4, 2011
In response to the food insecurity that affects a large portion of local residents, a number of organizations in Adams County are mobilizing to effect positive change under the banner of the Adams County Food Policy Initiative. This coalition, made up of the Campus Kitchen, United Way, Adams County Local Foods Network, Adams County Gleaning Network, Healthy Adams County, and Penn State Extension, aims to examine Adams County’s food system in order to come up with new ways to fight hunger. Their end goal is to ensure that all Adams County residents have access to a nutritious, affordable, and adequate food supply while promoting a sustainable local economy.
Individually, the businesses and organizations included under the Adams County Food Policy Initiative banner sponsor their own projects, piecing together a more secure and sustainable food community in big and small ways, contributing to the force that fights against food insecurity.
Healthy Adams County has recently begun the Fair Share Project, which is designed to increase access to fresh, healthy produce for families living just above the poverty line and also to support local farms. This food voucher program, currently in its pilot season, enables 25 families, living just above the poverty line, to purchase food from the Adams County Farm Fresh Markets. These families can use the vouchers, distributed each month and worth up to $40, to purchase fruit, vegetables, eggs, meat, and bread, contributing to a nutritious and well-balanced diet. Additionally, participating families can attend monthly events that provide educational activities on healthy eating and food preparation. “Essentially, this project provides families who are not eligible for food assistance programs with the increased ability to purchase healthy, fresh foods, it increases fruit and vegetable consumption, it supports local farms and the local economy, and it provides nutrition education and support,” said Lisa Martin, a student of Gettysburg College and an Intern for Healthy Adams County.
Campus Kitchens founded and run by students of Gettysburg College, is another program included in the Adams County Food Policy coalition that aims to close the food gap by providing healthy meals to those who need them. Because of the recent economic recession, a greater number of individuals are struggling to put food on the table. The mission of the Campus Kitchen is threefold: to strengthen partnerships within the community, raise funds in order to improve their services to families, children, and seniors, and to provide students with a hands-on experience with nonprofit management. Uniquely, Campus Kitchens places emphasis on utilizing local foods to create their meals, thereby positively impacting local farmers and building bridges among a wide socioeconomic range of Adams County residents. In addition to the Campus Kitchen program, the South Central Community Action Program created seven different food pantries located throughout the Adams County region that provides food assistance to those who cannot adequately supply themselves with nutritious meals.
To help close the food gap and to put more farm-direct produce into the hands of a greater number of consumers, the Adams County Farmers’ Market Association offers Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program services, or SNAP benefits (previously known as the Food Stamps program), along with Electronic Benefits wireless Transfer services, or EBT. These programs provide many benefits to the Adams County community: they help to nurture a healthier population, because of the greater access to fresh fruits and vegetables; they provide an improved environment through the retention of local farms; SNAP benefits feed resources into the economy, making it stronger overall; and they connect consumers with growers. “I can guarantee that everyday someone benefits from the SNAP program,” said Joe Weaver, owner of Weaver’s Sweet Treats, and farmers’ market vendor. “Not only does it provide supplemental funds for those who are in need, but also the foods that can be purchased at these farmers markets are right off the farms, helping customers lead a healthier lifestyle. The SNAP program also provides a much needed niche for vendors, because it brings in more people who, over time, become loyal customers.” Kathy Glahn, a coordinator of the Adams County Farmers Markets, stated, “It was a priority project to enable our farmers markets to accept SNAP customers, because there is a direct correlation between low income families and diet-related diseases, due to an overabundance of processed foods in their diet. By introducing SNAP benefits into the farmers market arena, low income families now have the much needed access to healthy foods. Over the past 18 months alone, need for SNAP benefits increased by 20% because of the economic recession. The Double your Dollar program has been added as an incentive to the SNAP program where every $10 charged on a SNAP card will be matched, sponsored by the Wellspan Partnership Community Grant, so there is lots of support for this project.”
By mobilizing under the Adams County Food Policy Initiative, these organizations help to connect, educate, and provide help for low income families and individuals throughout the region. The effects of unhealthy diets have been distributed unevenly across the county’s socioeconomic and ethnic groups. Certain socioeconomic sectors face greater geographic, financial, and cultural barriers to healthy food access. However, people have a right to safe, adequate, and nutritious food regardless of economic constraints or social inequalities, and the Food Policy Coalition fights to ensure that everyone’s food needs are met.
The Spotlight on Agriculture Column is an outcome of Penn State Ag Innovations Summits to explore ways to inspire a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation within rural Adams County and encourage novel approaches to securing the future of agriculture. Agricultural producers, educators, and community leaders who attended the 2011 Summit expressed commitment to a strategic plan to ensure the long-term goal of a production to consumer system that is environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable.
Amelia Jarvinen is an Ag Innovations Program Assistant at Penn State Extension serving Adams County. Penn State is committed to Affirmative Action, equal opportunity, and the diversity of its workplace. Penn State Extension in Adams County is located at 670 Old Harrisburg Road, Suite 204, Gettysburg, PA 17325, phone 717-334-6271 or 1-888-427-0261, e-mail AdamsExt@psu.edu .