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Do Food Stamps Affect Farmers Markets?

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L.A.Farmer's Market | Photo: cedwardbrice/Flickr/Creative Commons License

And so here we are, a little over a month from when I first asked for your thoughts on the nation's new Farm Bill, and it still hasn't been passed. At the time, I said it was the "beginning of the end" of the long legislative process, but with constant hold-ups and increasingly hostile debates, it seems like it was more of "the end of the beginning." It's actually gotten to the point where folks in Congress are floating around the idea of simply extending the old farm bill for a year, giving everyone a bit of time to collect themselves before trying to pass the heftier five-year version.

And what's keeping the farm bill from being passed? As I mentioned earlier, it's the food stamps. Specifically, the plan to cut a large chunk of the funding of them. The Senate version of the bill cuts $4.5 billion in food stamps over the next five years, while the House version cuts a whopping $16.5 billion.

(To make these numbers a bit easier-to-grasp, Colorlines.com tells us that the Senate version means "500,000 households would lose $90 a month in benefits" while the House version would "result in 3 million people losing all of their benefits, 300,000 children going without school lunch, and 500,000 households losing $90 in monthly grocery money.")

So, as you can see, there's a reason this point is so contentious.

The loss of food stamps affects the farmers as well as consumers: If people don't have them to pay with, will sales decrease at neighborhood farmers' markets? To find out, we asked a handful of farmers' market managers about food stamp usage.

Diana Rodgers, Mar Vista/Sunset Strip Farmers Market:

The Sunset Strip Market is brand new and is just doing the paperwork to accept food stamps. So, they will be forthcoming. The Mar Vista Farmers' Market, though, accepts food stamps. It's a relatively small percentage of business but an important one, and it's growing all the time.

Laura Avery, Santa Monica Farmers Markets:

All four Santa Monica Farmers Markets accept food stamps, but it's a very small percentage [of our business]. The markets issue approximately $400 in EBT benefits per week. Redemption varies, but it comes to under $500 per week on average. EBT redemption has remained low over the years.

Nick Spano, L.A. City Farm (Yamashiro/South Bay Pavilion/Autry Farmers Markets):

We accept WIC (women, infants, and children; and now seniors), which is a state-funded program specifically designed to make sure these groups have access to fresh produce and a balanced nutritional diet. Currently [the business from that] is very low -- only about 1%. As far as food stamps, individual vendors can accept them if they choose to, but we have not seen many over the four years that we have been operating farmers markets.

Jackie Sauceda-Rivera, Hollywood/Watts/Central/Echo Park/Crenshaw/Atwater Farmers Markets:

The food stamps definitely help our markets on the whole. Not so much in the Hollywood Farmers Market, but if they were no longer being used, the markets in Watts, Central, Echo Park and Crenshaw would definitely take the biggest hits.

So, it's kind of what you'd expect. On the whole, not a huge, huge percentage of farmers market sales are derived from food stamps -- and when it does, it mostly takes place in less wealthy areas of town -- but every manager believes it's an important option for consumers to have.

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