How to Reduce Food Deserts and SNAP benefits

Strawberry Barrel (Container gardening)
Strawberry Barrel (Container gardening)

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.

The Meaning Behind Each Fold of the Flag

Folded Flag

On this day that we celebrate the symbol of our nation I would like to share the flag folding program that explains the reason for each fold. I always knew that a flag should be folded into a triangular shape with the stars on the outside, but never realized how significant it is. No matter what your beliefs are about the state of our country the flag is meant to be a symbol of unity. Take the time today to enjoy the freedoms we have and respect The United States Flag.

We fold from the stripes toward the stars, for whereas the stripes represent the thirteen original colonies, they are now embodied in the fifty sovereign states represented by the stars.

FIRST FOLD – A symbol of life

SECOND FOLD – A symbol of our belief in the eternal life

THIRD FOLD – Made in honor and remembrance of the veteran departing our ranks and who gave a portion of life for the defense of our country to attain peace throughout the world.

FOURTH FOLD – Represents our weaker nature; for as American citizens trusting in God, it is to Him we turn in times of peace as well as in times of war for his divine guidance.

FIFTH FOLD – A tribute to our country, for in the words of Stephen Decatur, “Our country, in dealing with other countries, may she always be right; but she is still our country, right or wrong.”

SIXTH FOLD – Stands for where our hearts lie. It is with our heart that we pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

SEVENTH FOLD – A tribute to our Armed Forces, for it is through the Armed Forces that we protect our country and our flag against all the enemies, whether they be found within or without the boundaries of our republic.

EIGHTH FOLD – A tribute to the one who entered into the valley of the shadow of death, that we might see the light of day, and to honor mother, for whom it flies on Mother’s Day.

NINTH FOLD – A tribute to womanhood it has been through their faith, love, loyalty and devotion that the characters of the men and women who have made the country great have been molded.

TENTH FOLD – A tribute to father, for he too, has given his sons and daughters for the defense of our country since he or she was first born.

ELEVENTH FOLD – In the eyes of Hebrew citizens, represents the lower portion of the seal of King David and King Solomon and glorifies, in their eyes, the god of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

TWELFTH FOLD – In the eyes of a Christian citizen, represents an emblem of eternity and glorifies, in their eyes, God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

When the flag is completely folded, the stars are uppermost, reminding us of our National motto, “In God We Trust.”

Homeowner Association Debacle

Only in the backyard!
Only allowed in the backyard!

My husband and I are in the beginning process of living a more self-sufficient lifestyle since his retirement from the military, but since we live in a “Deed Restricted” development we are limited in the things we can. Due to living with the constant watchful eye of a Homeowners Association (HOA) I have been wondering about the development of Homeowner Associations and why have we allowed ourselves to be governed while trying to own a home. I understand the need for a management company if your home is in a gated community that provides security and outdoor maintenance. I have a hard time understanding why Homeowner Associations have become such an accepted normal in our society. In many of these communities you pay a fee to have the corner of a roadway looking nice, or the area around a community mailbox clean, but this also comes with the constant watchful eye of a management company dictating that you keep your yards weed free, or the paint on your home done, or even ensure that your driveway has no blemishes.

I attempted to do some research about where these communities that are a part of our normal life came about and discovered that the first planned community was in New York and was constructed by William Levitt. It seems he was creating a community in which military veterans could purchase a low cost home with a few restrictions, like no hanging a laundry line in your front yard. I had a hard time finding any other history related to Homeowners Associations. The only thing that I could determine is builders decided to create communities for people that had similar beliefs. Unfortunately this idea has blown up into something that has many people frustrated, but also feeling that they don’t have many options for purchasing a home unless they are willing to accept the restrictions of an HOA.

Many of the reasons that I became interested in our desire to have an HOA is because now that I would like to be more self-sufficient I can’t and I find that a bizarre choice in Americas living style. We have spent years fighting for our freedoms but yet we are willing to live in a house that we are purchasing but have an outside source dictate how our yard looks, what we can plant and encouraging the use of chemicals to maintain a pristine appearance that is unrealistic in the daily flow of life. I recently read an article in Green Living, Go Native by Adam Stone in which he reported “Last year, Texas passed a law that prevents homeowner associations from prohibiting the use of native grasses or Xeriscapes in landscaping.” I find it absolutely appalling that we have to pass a law to regulate a natural ecofriendly landscape. Seriously people isn’t the health of our planet more important than your yard looking better than the neighbors. How amazing would it be if we utilized our HOA living to create an environment of growing different vegetables to share a meal with our neighbors? Community living is suppose to create a sense of community and neighborly living, instead we have a fear of doing something wrong and offending the HOA gods. When it comes to a single family home I think HOA’s are a bad idea.