Catch-22: SNAP Users and Farmers’ Markets Scrambling For Solutions

In 2017, over 40 million Americans relied on SNAP benefits each month. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a resource for low-income people to access fresh foods. In addition, there are 7,000 farmers’ markets in the US. Around 1,700 farmers’ markets and farmers accept SNAP and EBT (electronic benefit transfer) benefits. Only one company Novo Dia is in the primary service provide for SNAP technology. But now, the USDA canceled its contract with the service provider. How will low-income people access healthy food without SNAP? What about the food vendors who depend on SNAP as a key income stream? What’s the backup plan?

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Celebrating 300+ Food Holidays A Year

Food is everywhere! We celebrate food to celebrate special occasions, traditions, milestones, life, and death. We use food to celebrate anything. In the US alone, we celebrate over 300 different food holidays every year! Any day is a special food day. There is no official source for “national” days for celebrating food. You can make up a day to celebrate your favorite foods! Why are they so many food celebration days around the world? Is it food policy or food marketing?

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What No One Tells You About Food Banks in New Orleans

New Orleans is a city of survivors. Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005 and the city of New Orleans was changed forever. Forever. The city’s built infrastructures (transportation, buildings, hospitals) were destroyed. Another type of infrastructure also was destroyed: the city’s food system. This infrastructure includes a variety of processes:

  • Food production
  • Food processing
  • Food distribution
  • Food retail and marketing
  • Capital (natural, human, social, economic)

How are people in New Orleans surviving in 2018? Although the city was hit by more floods and heavy rains last summer, the built environment is recovering. But the people are still struggling. What is the state of New Orleans’ food system? Did federal disaster recovery funding help the city? Why is the food-based infrastructure slow to recover?

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Food: So What and Who Cares?

When I first thought about my dissertation, I floundered around for ideas on a research topic. I waffled between different ideas such as water conservation, animal-human relationships, transition town creation, social justice, and sustainability. Qualities of my study had to be:

  1. Something I was passionate about (passion is key because I’d be stuck working on one idea for many years running).
  2. Something relevant to the world (I didn’t want my research to sit on the shelf collecting dust in a dark corner of the library).
  3. Something that contributes to the existing knowledge (Yes, I wanted to add another spoke to the wheel of knowledge).

I discovered that urban food policy had all these qualities. But my real challenge was to answer the questions “So what? Who cares?”

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Who Are Tomorrow’s Farmers?

Burkina Faso and Thailand. These two countries are far apart on the map. But they share a common goal: to create a dynamic infrastructure around local agriculture. For example, Burkina Faso offers training for poor women to generate income through micro-gardening. These women learn to grow food for their families and sell the surplus in the marketplace. Thailand is developing programs to repopulate rural areas. New farmers are leaving the city to start small agricultural operations.

Both examples support a new generation of farmers, an exciting and dynamic infrastructure. Women in Burkina Faso, West Africa are using gardening to build the local food system in their communities. And young adults in urban areas are going back to the land and starting farms in Thailand. Can these countries expand the network of small holder farms?  How can women farmers contribute to the global food system? Why are young adults leaving urban life behind?

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Food Talk: Why Regionalism Matters

Sustainability. Resilient agriculture. Social justice. Environmentalism. Do you know what these words mean? These are some of them describe our agricultural system. And they contribute to the complexities of food systems and food policy. Some words are jargon, politically correct, or used to widen the gap between small rural farmers and urban farmers. I discussed some of these concepts in my dissertation on urban farming and urban agriculture.

I wrote it for a very narrow audience of my colleagues. But in the real world, I rarely use these words. One reason is that each word has a different meaning to different people. It depends on what you do (small farm or agribusiness), where you live (rural or urban), and your farming practices (agrobiodiversity or monocropping). For example, I used to think that “sustainability” was the best way to describe good farming practices. That was until I learned that sustainability has over 100 definitions.

It’s hard to rely on a word with such flexibility. You have to keep explaining it in context: environmental sustainability, agricultural sustainability, social sustainability, or economic sustainability. I’ve moved on to more precise words, the topic of this week’s blog. Here’s an interesting word: regionalism. It’s an expression, custom or feature of a specific area. What’s the problem with regionalism? How does it translate in the world of food policy reform? What’s the best way to talk to stakeholders in rural and urban communities?

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1.1 Billion: Global Agriculture and Smallholder Farmers

Last week, the CDC retracted its 2016 report on suicide rates by occupational group because it “misclassified farming, fishing and forestry workers.” The numbers were skewed to show that farmers committed suicide more than any other occupational group. The media made the conclusion that there was a “farmer suicide crisis” – and got it all wrong. But it made great headlines just as the politicians were hashing out the 2018 the Farm Bill. The Farm Bill includes funding to help farmers and ranchers with emotional and mental problems.

But the largest population at risk is the farm workers. These are the 80-90% of the people who harvest our food and make up the bulk of the farming industry. And the CDC has no way to find out the true suicide rate in farm workers because their work is seasonal. In addition, women farm workers struggle with rape, sexual abuse, and fear every day. Their stories don’t make the headlines. Many workers fear the loss of their family’s income if they complain or file a police report.

Full protection under the law is not a reality for migrant workers. Abuse of farm workers is an epidemic on farms across America – a discussion I’ll save for another blog. This week’s blog is about our global agriculture workforce. Continue reading “1.1 Billion: Global Agriculture and Smallholder Farmers”

How To Get It Wrong: What “Farmer Suicide Crisis”?

Working as a non-academic creative, I enjoy reading and writing about my interest in food policy. I try to be thorough and avoid stepping into the abyss of misinformation. But this time,  I stepped into it big time. Recently, I was stung by the misinformation monster: media’s error in reporting a story. My doctoral education taught me to evaluate data with an open mind. Or so I thought.

How did several media sources (New York Times, Mother Jones, NPR, the Guardian) misread the 2016 CDC report on suicide rates? The CDC reported suicide rates by occupational group in 17 states. Suddenly, headlines about the “farmer suicide crisis” appeared. But was is really a “crisis”? And why didn’t I deep dive or look below the surface? Here’s the story correction to my blog Farmer Suicide, STRESS and Mental Health. What happened? What important data did we miss? Continue reading “How To Get It Wrong: What “Farmer Suicide Crisis”?”

Flavors of Summer: Food Daze in June

The summer season officially starts this week – June 21 is the Summer Solstice! I’m taking a break from my usual food policy blog this week. In celebration of the new season, here are some special food days for your dining pleasure. Enjoy!

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How to Reboot Our Food System

Food is ubiquitous – it’s everywhere and invisible. We ignore it, indulge in it, waste it, eat it raw, cooked, organic or genetically modified. We take it for granted that there will always be food around. But we can’t forget about those without: the 84% of refugees living in developing countries, or the small farmers around the world. These are the farmers who grow crops for the global food system and barely have enough to eat. Many of these farmers don’t get the subsidies they need to survive – the result is an increase in suicides in farming communities from India to New Zealand and across the US. What is the future of food for small farmers? Are agricultural technologies the best solution? What are the smart food policies to feed 10 billion people by 2050? Can we create resilient agriculture for the future?

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