#44 Food Security and Access

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What are food security and food access?

Food security is the extent to which a person or family has sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life. Food access, which is part of food security, is the state of having sufficient resources (including money, transportation, and knowledge) to obtain foods to maintain a nutritious diet (see World Health Organization definitions at https://www.who.int/publications/i/item/9789240038349

Urban areas known as “food deserts” are areas where residents have limited food access due to their income, transportation options, and/or proximity to a full-service grocery store or other healthy-food retailer. These areas often have a higher degree of food insecurity than areas with better food access.

Urban Farms and Food Security and Access

Urban farms have been proposed by many scholars and practitioners as a way to eliminate food deserts and increase food access and food security in underserved neighborhoods. (see for example, Brown, K. et al, “Urban Agriculture and Community Food Security in the United States: Farming from the City Center To the Urban Fringe,” February 2002, via http://ocfoodaccess.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Urban-Agriculture-Food-Security_CFSC-2002.pdf).

Below are five ways an urban farm can help contribute toward increasing food access and food security in its surrounding neighborhoods:

  1. Community Gardening: community gardeners pay an annual fee to tend a plot to grow produce (and sometimes flowers, bees, or other products) for their own consumption, increasing household food security. Some cities and states allow sale of community garden produce, which might increase security/access more broadly, though the size of plots limits impact.
  1. Farming to supply emergency food relief centers (e.g. food pantries): some nonprofit farms grow food for donation only, or may receive operations support from food emergency food relief centers to provide fresh produce or other goods for customers.
  1. Donating Food: both urban and rural farms are in the practice of donating unsold food with a limited shelf-life to emergency food relief centers. Find a food bank near you through the Food Bank Association of New York State: http://www.foodbankassocnys.org/find-food-bank.cfm.
  1. Gleaning: Some emergency food relief organizations also have a gleaning program, where organization staff will glean fields after the farm staff have harvested. While this is a low-effort option for the farmer, considerations include liability for non-farm staff on-site, ensuring gleaners glean unsaleable post-harvest product only, and managing the organization’s expectations of participation. Read about Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Gleaning Program at https://smallfarms.cornell.edu/2012/04/02/gleaning-more-of-new-york%E2%80%99s-harvest/
  1. Accepting SNAP, WIC, or SFMNP: USDA runs three prominent food assistance programs which are described in detail below, and a great option for urban farmers selling at farmers markets.

What is SNAP?

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) is a federal assistance program which provides benefits to low-income households in the United States.  These benefits are distributed via Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, which work like debit cards.

Farmers can now accept EBT cards at farmers’ markets, farm stands, and for community supported agriculture (CSA) memberships.  Note that EBT cards can only be used to purchase foods for home preparation and seeds and plants for households to grow food.  For more information about eligible items and the SNAP program, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/.

Accepting EBT Cards

The number of farmers markets licensed to accept SNAP benefits is increasing nationwide. Note that the guidelines below are for sites with electricity.  For sites without electricity, the New York State Farmers Market Wireless EBT Program, administered by the Farmers Market Federation of New York, provides wireless terminals for the JP Morgan or independent POS terminals.  For more information or to apply for this program, contact Diane Eggert at (315) 637-4690 (after being approved by the FNS). Visit https://www.nyfarmersmarket.com/snap-for-farmers-markets for more information.

For Farm Stands or U-Pick Operations:

  1. The first step is to become licensed by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).  Call the FNS at (877) 823-4369 to receive a paper application or apply online at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/farmer-producer (apply under the designation of a farmers’ market).
  2. Mail your application and all required documentation, including the application signature page, to the address provided in the application.
  3. Processing and approval may take up to 45 days.  Once complete, you will receive a welcome packet from the FNS with your certification card.  You will also receive a welcome packet from JP Morgan* and an application for a state-sponsored EBT terminal.
  4. Complete the JP Morgan application and mail it to the specified address.  You should receive verification and manual vouchers (in case your terminal is or becomes temporarily inoperable) within 14-16 days.  Note that farmers also have the option of having EBT cards added to their existing Point of Service (POS) terminals, though an initiation and/or monthly fees might apply.

*JP Morgan is a global financial services firm and works with U.S. state governments to accept and process forms and payments from constituents, including electronic benefits transfers.  For more information, visit https://www.jpmorgan.com/pages/jpmorgan

For Farmers’ Markets:

The USDA FNS website https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/farmer-producer provides an overview of the steps required to take to accept EBT at market, grants that can help fund the program, and further resources.  Here’s an overview of how it works:

A farmers’ market organization can become authorized as an EBT card retailer and accept EBT benefits on behalf of farmers and vendors in the market.  Once authorized, the market is provided with a single wireless EBT machine free of charge, as well as wooden tokens or paper scrip, training, and promotional support.

At farmers’ markets, EBT consumers swipe their cards at the EBT machine at a market manager’s booth and receive $1.00 or $5.00 tokens or scrips.  Individual vendors can accept these tokens or scrips in place of cash for eligible products.  At the end of the market, vendors redeem their tokens or scrip with the market manager for full dollar value.

Market managers will be asked to complete a farmers’ market EBT participation agreement and a service provider application.  Farmers and vendors wanting to participate must also complete a participation agreement, to be submitted to the market manager.

For agreements and to apply, contact Diane Eggert at (315) 637-4690 (after being approved by the FNS).  Visit https://www.nyfarmersmarket.com/snap-for-farmers-markets for more information.

For NYS farmers and markets, GrowNYC provides assistance. Visit their site at http://www.grownyc.org/greenmarket/ebt

For CSA Memberships:

Become licensed by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), applying under the designation of retail merchant.  Call the FNS to receive a paper application at (877) 823-4369 or apply online at https://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/apply-to-accept.  Follow the same steps provided for farm stands or u-pick operations.

Note that members paying for CSA membership with EBT benefits may need to be provided with alternate payment schedules, such as paying on each pick-up date.

Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs (WIC and SFMNP)

The FMNP is associated with the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC), and provides free supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition education to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding post-partum women, as well as to infants and children up to five years of age who are at nutritional risk.
Additionally, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) awards grants to states, territories, and federally-recognized Indian tribal governments to provide low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and CSA programs.  For more information, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp/senior-farmers-market-nutrition-program-sfmnp.

Farmers, farmers’ markets, and farm stands can be authorized by the State to accept and redeem FMNP coupons.  For more information about FMNP, visit https://www.fns.usda.gov/fmnp/wic-farmers-market-nutrition-program and http://www.health.ny.gov/prevention/nutrition/fmnp/, or contact Darrel Aubertine (darrel.aubertine@agmkt.state.ny.us) or Kevin King (kevin.king@agriculture.ny.gov).

Additional Resources

Just Food’s Online Resource Center features additional tipsheets with information about FMNP, Food Stamps, and Health Bucks, available in English (http://justfood.org/farmer-outreach/online-resource-center) and Spanish (http://www.justfood.org/farmer-outreach/spanish-language-resources).

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