Tag Archives: supplemental nutrition assistance program

Nearly Half of U.S. Children Will Eat on Food Stamps.

While walking the Freedom Trail in downtown Boston this week, Kerri and I stumbled across a memorial to Irish immigrants who struggled during the potato famine. Photo by Christopher.

The other day, I asked Kerri if she thought it was too late to have our publisher change something in our upcoming book. I was prompted to ask because of a recent report released by the USDA which stated that 49 million Americans (1 in 7 households) are currently in need of some type of food assistance; a number that in August hovered around 36 million. In the second part of our book we talk in depth about SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance program), formerly known as food stamps, and as it stands now, when our book is released we will have drastically understated the scope of the problems people are facing.

Then yesterday, a shocking projection was revealed across the newswires: nearly half of all children in the United States will eat on food stamps during some part of their childhood.

The study was published earlier this month in Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, and was conducted by sociologists from Cornell University and Washington University in St. Louis. They based their projection on 30 years of national data, and said their results, “show U.S. kids face a substantial risk for experiencing poverty, which poses a serious threat to their health and well-being.”

The article by Lindsey Tanner of the Associated Press goes on to do a fairly good job of embracing the nuances of food security issues, but what was most surprising (and predictable?) was the comment from Robert Rector at the conservative Heritage Foundation. Apparently, Rector sees no need to sound the alarm about this issue as he explains that many in this situation, “have comforts like televisions and air conditioning receive food stamps for short periods of time when a parent is laid off.”

I cannot eat my television when I’m hungry, or get enough nutrition from cold air, and I’m assuming that the people he’s talking about can’t do so either. (The callousness of this response prompted today’s accompanying photo)

Rector’s comments seem to stem from the same place that many libertarian economic philosophers do, one of “every man for himself” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric that does little to account for the contexts or the individual situations that people face. When your research is aimed from a certain philosophical gun, it’s pretty easy to hit the target you’re aiming for. The Heritage Foundation has such an arsenal, and uses it frequently on issues of social spending.

Meanwhile, local food pantries and charities keep plugging away while the need for services climbs, and resources diminish. While the work of these groups is essential, it is not enough, and on its own will never come close to getting at the roots of these problems. That being said, we would like to ask you once again to do what you can to help others, either through donating to those in extreme poverty abroad, or to those facing food insecurity in your community (or both).

While we were in Boston this past week, Kerri and I were humbled by the depth of our nation’s history, and by the efforts of those working to help others. While on the red line train we saw an ad for a Catholic charity, that asks people to throw a party where the entrance to the event is a bag of boxed and canned foods for donation. We thought it quite clever, and will most likely use this idea for our own efforts in San Diego. Thankful for your continued help of others…

– Christopher



Filed under Uncategorized

A Farmers Market for Everyone.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

For most people who receive food assistance from the government, shopping at a farmers market is out of the question. However, in City Heights, a low-income community in San Diego, the International Rescue Committee and the Farm Bureau have worked together to provide everyone with the chance to shop for local produce. Photo by Kerri.

On Saturday morning, Christopher and I took a trip outside of our usual range of travel. We went to City Heights, a community within San Diego, to learn about their farmers market.

Right away it was apparent that this farmers market differed from the one we are used to visiting. Ours is held at a local elementary school and has a wide variety of vendors and booths. In addition to fresh produce, you can purchase everything from crafts to fresh breads, and there is usually someone playing live music to the legions of locavores.

The City Heights farmers market is located on a blocked off street between a police station and low income housing.  There are significantly fewer vendors (this market is relatively new), and there weren’t many customers. However, as we walked past the booths we saw fresh greens stacked up and boxes of vegetables.

One vendor had long, slender, vibrant purple eggplants and dark green zucchinis at least a foot long.  I made a quick note to stop at that booth with the curly green kale for $1. What I first thought was a place for bike parking was group of  young punk rock volunteers teaching people how to re-build and repair bikes. But that is not why we went.

A table underneath a white canopy stood at the far end. There was a laptop, a wireless card swiping machine, a group of volunteers in colorful City Heights Farmers Market t-shirts and a sign that said “Use your EBT card here!!!”

Electronic Benefits Transfer, or EBT cards are swiped in exchange for tokens that can be used at any time at the farmers market. It is rare to even find a farmers market in a low income area, let alone one that accepts EBT.  In addition to helping people who already receive benefits, The San Diego chapter of the International Rescue Committee (IRC)  has volunteers helping to prescreen people to find out if they qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, and to help them fill out the initial paperwork.  They have volunteers who speak Spanish, Vietnamese and Somali.

This market is a joint effort between the IRC and the San Diego Farm Bureau which is also starting similar projects in two other areas. According to a volunteer with the IRC, San Diego County is  the worst in the nation for food stamp participation. This means that people who qualify are not receiving assistance for a variety of reasons. City Heights has the lowest participation rate in San Diego.

This was one of the busiest booths at the time we arrived. We waited in line to talk to someone. While we were there,  an older woman came up to find out what was going on and learned that she might qualify for a one time senior voucher.  A Somalian man was assisted by two women, one of  whom helped to translate.  No one was turned away as the volunteers explained the processes and helped people with their questions. While we waited we noticed a survey on poster paper asking customers how the market’s prices compared to those at the grocery store. Most of the feedback indicated that the prices were “similar” or “better.” When we spoke with two of the workers, one from the Farm Bureau and one from the IRC, we learned that they do survey’s every week to better serve their customers and vendors.

This particular market is able to offer “Fresh Funds.” Money is donated towards the program  and is distributed each week, so that people who spent $5 at the market get an additional $5 worth of tokens to spend there.  This encourages people to use their money on fresh fruits and vegetables and helps local farmers.

If you live near City Heights or another farmers market that accepts EBT and/or WIC, check them out and support their efforts. The City Heights farmers market Web page has great information about their programs and why it is beneficial to support community efforts that provide healthy food to all people regardless of income.

– Kerri


Filed under Uncategorized

Urban Homesteaders Plant Ideas at Film Fest.

Jules Dervaes seeks his kid's input before answering a question from the audience after the film screening of "Homegrown Revolution", a short documentary of their urban homestead in Pasadena where they grow 6,000 pounds of produce on one tenth of an acre each year. Photo by Christopher.

Jules Dervaes seeks his kid's input before answering a question from the audience after the film screening of "Homegrown Revolution", a short documentary of their urban homestead in Pasadena where they grow 6,000 pounds of produce on one tenth of an acre each year. Photo by Christopher.

Watching Kerri gently raise her garden over the last few weeks has been quite a treat. The look she gets when something new has sprouted, and the sheer excitement that radiates from her as she checks in on the food landscape that is taking over our patio is inspiring. While I have borne witness to several new crops grown from seeds recently, what we saw today takes urban gardening to a whole new level.

Jules Dervaes and his three adult children have been growing their own food, and working to live off the grid for nearly a decade. Their urban homestead located in Pasadena is both a revolution in living and a model for self-sufficency. Their short film “Homegrown Revolution” was shown today as part of the Cottonwood Environmental Film Festival here in Encinitas, and the Dervaes family was present to answer questions and distribute information from a booth in the back of the room.

The short film documents how the Dervaes have transformed 1/10 of an acre, which used to include a driveway, into a 6,000 pound urban garden that offers up 350 types of useful and edible plants each year. They use every inch of space, which includes vertical gardening, and during the summer are able to provide up to 80 percent of their food needs. During the winter it’s about 50 percent. In contrast, their lawn growing neighbors have little to show for their own patches of earth just 130 feet from the freeway.

Overall, the Dervaes eat about 60 percent of what they grow, sell 30 percent to local chefs, and use the remaining 10 percent to feed to the small number of chickens, ducks and goats that help produce compost.

“The animals help complete the cycle,” Dervaes said as he answered a question from an audience member after the screening.

The few animals they have aren’t for eating, as the family maintains a near-vegetarian diet, but they do eat some of the eggs and milk produced by their furry and feathered friends. The youngest daughter, Jordanne, says they’re more like pets really and that each one has a name. She even takes the goats hiking.

Beyond the growing of food, the family also uses solar energy, human powered appliances (including a bike blender), a graywater system (including an outdoor shower) and would not dare using chemicals to keep away pests. Their nine different compost systems have put their land 18 inches above the plot next door.

This short film however was only a prologue to the feature length film “Fresh” that screened directly afterward.

For those of you who have read Michael Pollan’s “Omnivore’s Dilemma”, this film could have very well been a companion to the section where Pollan is on the Salatin farm. While Pollan himself is interveiwed throughout, seeing Joel Salatin and the farm that Pollan works hard to describe in his book, is the best part of this film.

Filmmaker Ana Sofia Joanes has done a good job of weaving together a few different stories of where our food comes from, and in doing so allows viewers to see that another type of food system is possible, if we’re willing to get our hands dirty, or commit to supporting closed cycle farms that are looking to feed people instead of mono cropping corn and soy to process into other products.

Both films were inspiring, but I’m not convinced that the solutions proposed by either film are going to gain much traction with the majority of Americans who prize convenience above all else. My dad is not going to start a garden, and I’m pretty sure he’s not alone. However, a move in this direction is absolutely essential if we are going to survive as a species.

Unfortunately the one in nine Americans now receiving food stamps is less equipped to make such a radical transition, as many people are just trying to make it to the next paycheck (if they’re lucky enough to have a job – unemployment is now 9.4 percent). If you are paying attention, you know that the United States has reached a record level of federal assistance this week. More Americans than ever before are struggling to feed their families.

Over the last few days there were also several thought-provoking food tidbits to consider. Author Tom Standage was interviewed on National Public Radio about his book “An Edible History of Humanity”, and Jim Motavalli wrote a well reasoned opinion piece in Foreign Policy magazine predicting the oncoming vegetarian revolution; he writes that it will come by force rather than choice, and the comments are also worth sifting through.

Until next week,



Filed under Uncategorized