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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:

Laura Avery, Santa Monica Farmers Markets:

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

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

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.