In recent times we have been hearing reports about federal and state governments constantly having to cut back on programs because there is no money and many Americans are still trying to dig their way out of the financial crisis that our nation has struggled through for the last 7-8 years it seems that we need to start looking at different more efficient ways for taking care of our citizens. Due to countless factors including weather, economics and demand our food costs are constantly on the rise. Recently on the news they were talking about food deserts and that local farmers had developed a mobile farmers market to help people with access to fresh food. I was glad to hear that something like this is happening in an era of fast food and convenient living.
Since I live in a large urban area I wanted to better understand what is truly considered a food desert. According to the USDA a food desert is any urban area that lacks access to fresh, healthy, affordable foods within 1 mile. In a rural area access must be within 10 miles. The USDA does not consider access to fast food or convenience stores adequate access. While I am glad to see that our government recognizes that these foods should not be considered healthy or affordable it did send me on another search about what food is eligible for food stamps (now known as SNAP) because more and more often signs are popping up at convenience stores and fast food chains stating they accept SNAP. According to the USDA website they define eligible foods as “any food or food product for home consumption and also includes seeds and plants which produce food for consumption by SNAP households.” I am sure many of us have witnessed people purchasing items that we don’t feel should be eligible for SNAP, but unfortunately with this broad definition almost anything that humans consume is eligible. The website reports that 23.5 million people receive these benefits.
As someone who enjoys gardening, and realizes the many benefits that I receive from this simple activity including fresh, healthy affordable food I was shocked to see that you can buy seeds or plants with SNAP benefits. I would much rather see someone utilize there SNAP benefit to purchase a tomato plant then the lobster or energy drink that I have seen. Several years ago I also fell victim to the financial crisis of our nation and was struggling to make ends meet for myself and my teenage son. I was working only part time and found myself sitting in the welfare office applying for any program that I thought I may qualify. Unfortunately because I was working part time I didn’t qualify for much, I was allotted approximately $16 a month in SNAP. Luckily as soon as I found out what I qualified for my situation changed and I no longer needed the benefits. That experience though has made me realize that it would be worthwhile to have a gardening channel running while people wait and educate people that seeds are an option until I looked it up to write this article I had no clue. I realize that many of the 23.5 million people may not have access to land to plant a garden, but there are several options from utilizing containers to encouraging a landlord to allow a community garden in a common area.
When it comes to providing SNAP benefits I feel that the Chinese proverb Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime is one that really needs to be taught and adapted towards gardening. The $16 that I received could have bought me about 7 packets of seeds and produced an abundance of food that would have lasted longer then what I may have purchased in the store.