I love my Farmers’ Market but for various reasons, we had only made it once or twice all summer long. Those two trips happened to fall on the Wednesday before our Food Stamp Day (the 9th of every month), and we had to spend cash instead of use our EBT card.
It’s ridiculous to limit the food choices of people, especially when they may live in an area already hindered by poor choices (for example, food deserts). You can’t restrict options without offering an affordable alternative to replace that gap. Farmers’ Markets are vital to serving that need.
As far as being a food stamp foodie using EBT at a farmers’ market, it’s also very easy. Although it may be different from market to market, this is how it works at ours ….
At the market office, your EBT card is swiped for whatever amount you think you’d like to spend. For our trip last week, we asked for $30.
Once your card is swiped for the amount you want, you’re given tokens.
AND , thanks to a grant, my market gives additional coupons to SNAP recipients . For every $5, you get an extra $2. Some markets will double the amount you spend.
So, we had $42 to spend. As much as I love eating the food and everything, I also love just taking pictures of it. It’s all just so gorgeous. *Gratuitous Produce Porn*
I know. Swoon worthy,right?
Here is some of what we ended up taking home. We spent $41 Missing from this picture are raspberries, which were already in the kids’ bellies two minutes after we got home, and a watermelon we had for dessert.
If the tomatoes from my own garden hurry up and finish ripening, those peppers are going to be awesome in salsa. Those purple peppers are gorgeous things. They turn green when you cook them. They also inspire one to attempt saying, “Peter Piper picked a peck of purple pickled peppers”, while cutting them up.
If your local Farmers’ Market does not currently accept SNAP , I would suggest making some phone calls to those in charge of the market, urging them to consider applying. The application for Farmers’ Markets to accept SNAP can be found at the USDA website here: Accept SNAP Benefits at Farmer’s Markets application
My gratitude to the Trumansburg Farmers’ Market, for supporting food insecure families in the community by providing accessibility to quality,local produce. You rock.
Infographic source unknown. Someone sent it to me from Pinterest.
This infographic is a good rough guide to what you can and can’t buy with SNAP.
I have a huge gripe with the way some states or counties in parts of the U.S. work with their clients. The most frequent search terms on my other blog where I started blogging about SNAP is questions about what people can buy with their food stamps.
This should be a caseworker’s job, not a blogger on the Internet. I am very happy to provide the information but from what I understand ,there are food stamp recipients who never even see a caseworker or the only info they’re given about purchasing things is ,”You can’t buy cigarettes and alcohol.” Well, no duh.
Based on my most frequent search queries, here is a list of things people wondered about that you CAN buy with food stamps:
vinegar, all kinds
any cooking oil,including olive oil
seeds …EXCEPT sunflower seeds, unless they are packaged and ready to eat.
plants that produce food and potted herbs
Here are specific items you CANNOT buy:
tampons or pads
diapers, cloth or disposable
cooking utensils or small kitchen appliances
pots and pans
Yes, it’s totally true that you CAN buy bows and arrows in Alaska but not live animals. Like lobster. You can’t buy a live lobster to cook…or chickens ,if you were to want to raise them yourself.
Since we’re talking about what can and can’t be bought using an EBT card, I want to clear up some things for those who are misinformed.
Nobody is given paper food stamps anymore. Everyone who receives food stamp benefits gets a card. An EBT card. Electronic Benefits Transfer card. It works like a debit card.
EBT cards are also given to people who receive cash welfare benefits. Some people who get food stamps also receive cash benefits but just to clear up a misconception... it’s very hard to get cash assistance .Because of the Work to Welfare program and other reformation of the system, once someone is approved for cash assistance, they must either enroll in school or job training, or prove that they are job searching, unless they are disabled. Most states have a limited time or a cash cap limit that you can receive while looking for a job. They will also place people in jobs, basically at a just above minimum wage rate for as many hours as comparable to the amount of cash assistance they get. If they don’t go to work or school, they lose the assistance. Once they’re earning money, they also lose the cash assistance. It’s a temporary assistance program, which is why it’s called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). It’s that simple.
In some states, the EBT card cannot be used at a register in a store for non-food stamp items. The recipient has to go to an ATM or a store office and withdrawl cash. In some states, it can be used right at the register, which I’m guessing is causing confusion to nosy people who stand in line behind other people in line, checking out what kind of card it being used to pay for groceries.
Also, it’s important to put out there : Some states put a single mother’s child support money into the account attached to their EBT card if she’s also eligible for food stamps. So, the state isn’t being the baby-daddy there. The actual contributor of DNA paid his child support and that’s how the state is giving her that money.
All those stupid memes online about beer,tattoos,cigarettes being bought with EBT….
I’m not going to say that no one buys those things with their cash benefits but if you pay attention to how those ridiculous things are worded, they are completely fabricated . “Today I saw a woman in line paying w/ food stamps blahblahblah…IPHONEblahblahblahLEXUSblahblahPOTATOCHIPSANDSODA!”
No, you didn’t. You want people to get riled up and start a shit storm on your page or tumblr.
97% of the time, I guarantee it.
Or I’m only person in the store,minding my own business and thinking about the stuff in my own cart. If someone has time to cart judge, they need a constructive hobby. Go volunteer and the local food bank or something.
It works out to be about $36 per year. That’s about the average amount a SNAP recipient receives each week. On average. For my family , we receive $20/per person per week but my partner works full time. The amount varies based on your income and resources and it’s different in each state…but on average, it’s typically between $30-35/ week.
It isn’t a lot and I would be willing to bet that many of the people who are not rich politicians who complain the most about safety net programs don’t even earn $50K/year.
Lyndon B. Johnson’s “War on poverty” has turned into a war on people who live in poverty. The focus on what poor people get detracts from other ways the government spends the taxpayer dollars and the ways government enables the rich to get richer. The focus needs to be on what is keeping people poor, not the programs designed to help them out while they are poor. You don’t want to your dollars going to support poor people? Then advocate and work towards making things better for poor people.
The attack on single mother who have children and are receiving government support is particularly upsetting to me. “Why should I have to pay for someone else’s bad choices? “, I was queried one day. “If you can’t afford children, don’t have them.”
It must be a comfortable place to be that you can wrap how life works up so neatly. There’s no margin for error, no speedbumps in life that complicate plans. Having children isn’t a good choice for everyone but those people usually don’t retain custody of their children. For everyone else who chose to have a child, the circumstances happened in their life leading up to,during, or after the birth of that child don’t offer valid proof to that decision being a bad choice.
Things happen and the group of people least likely to have a means to have a back-up plan to save their ass is women who made the choice to be a mother. Divorces happen. Women flee domestic violence. Partners die. Women are more likely to have left the workforce to care for the children they chose to have under secure circumstances and then be left with nothing when things go badly. Women are less likely to have a college degree and be able to get a living wage job. The daycare situation in the U.S is atrocious and accountability for deadbeat parents ordered to pay child support is ridiculous.70% of the poorest people on the planet are women. Don’t vilify women who have children to support. We haven’t exactly created a sustainable system that works for them.
The safety net in place does not give people an excuse to languish in poverty and living off the government dime. Trust me… no one is languishing in poverty. The Almighty Taxpayers need to stop believing the myths perpetrated by uninformed jerks who have prejudices about poor people. Before welfare reforms, it was more likely that people stayed at a status quo within the system. Languishing is not the right word. Existing would be more appropriate. These days, there are limits to how long a person can receive assistance without documentation of a disability. If a person is unemployed, they have to either get a job or enroll in school or job training. There is no infinite food stamps for someone who doesn’t work and getting TANF (cash assistance) is damned near impossible. A lot of criticisms made about the welfare system are spoken by people who have no clue what the actual rules are that recipients need to comply with.
The safety net helps people while they are struggling and gives support until they get out of the crappy situation they’re in. That’s what those programs do. They don’t enable people. They don’t take taxpayer money to pay for other people’s “bad choices”. Everyone makes choices that make life difficult in some respects and every single person deserves the chance and ability to be helped during the bad times.
The alternative is that we just let people become homeless and starve. I think if you advocate for that, you’ve lost the right to call yourself a human being. If you’re making $50,000 a year, just quietly let go of that $36 as a token of your humanity.
It’s this “$2,000 worth of food” that has people flippin’. The source of the information is a cashier in a supermarket. Not a reliable source, yet someone politicians go to for basing opinions on food stamps. Wisconsin Governor Scott walker used conversations with cashiers at a grocery store for the basis of his junk food bill.
The article actually says:
Last week, a woman stuffed dozens of boxes of macaroni and evaporated milk into a barrel headed for her family in Kingston, Jamaica. She said she didn’t have welfare benefits and bought the food herself.
“This is all worth more than $2,000,” she said. “I’ve been shopping since last December. You can help somebody else, someone who doesn’t live in this country.”
The idea that people are using EBT to fill these barrels came from a cashiers. If someone comes through their line and uses their EBT card to buy food, that is the end of their factual information about that food. It goes home with the person. End of story. Cashiers don’t know for certain where that food ends up.
Even if they are filling barrels gradually while also feeding their low income families, it’s going to take months to fill that barrel. I am a NY resident who receives food stamps. For my family of seven, we receive $604 per month. I cook frugally and still don’t make it through the month w/out running out of SNAP funds sometimes.
I’m just saying here…it’s not like people on food stamps are living better than most. People need to keep their panties in a twist over more pressing matters right now. The outrage over this is almost funny to me. It just proves that “they” don’t want to feed people, which is always a wrong opinion to me. They claim to be pissed off that US Tax Dollars are being sent outside of the U.S. but it’s really more like, “They’re sending U.S. tax dollars outside of the U.S. to feed people ! We don’t even like to feed Americans!”. Gee wilikers, we can’t use the government money to feed people. We need that money for wars and stuff.
I have the perfect solution to make this situation all legit. We can just bring all the relatives living in the Caribbean to the United States to live. They can become citizens and get minimum wage paying jobs and qualify for food stamps of their very own! Would that be better?
When I first published that thing I wrote about why poor people might not be able to just grow their own food (part 1 & part 2 ), I received some very passionate input. Most of it was a positive resounding cyber high five. These people came from a few different places. Most had been there themselves. Some had worked with poor people in some capacity, usually as a social worker or nutritionist, and had seen what I was talking about. Others… gardeners or foodies who themselves had wondered, “How would poor people do this?” but had never gone so far as to find the answer to that.
There were a few negative responses and that it what I want to talk about here. The wonderful non-private thing that the Internet is, I was also made privy to conversations about my posts from the negative point of view. They were rather enlightening to me.(sorry to all those homesteading and real food pages on Facebook .I admit to spying).
I swear, it’s not just to complain about people who disagree with me. There’s an important point I want to make about why it’s important that they get it. Not that they agree with me.I don’t care about that. It’s just important that they see the reality of what people in poverty are up against ,so they can help change the balance of privilege.
The people who didn’t like what I said felt that I was just making excuses for poor people who are making bad choices. They just weren’t grasping that there actually are people in America who don’t have a choice ,or if they do have choices, none of them are the ideal things to choose from. These responses came from people who would describe themselves as being politically liberal and “real food advocates”. I needed to throw that out there in case you got the idea that only Conservative Republicans are the only ones out of touch with people in poverty. They aren’t. In fact, some of the positive responses I got were from people who admitted they leaned quite to the right politically and completely understood what I was getting at…usually because they were gardeners and know firsthand that it ain’t no walk in the park.
Even after all of the reasons given about why people can’t grow their own food, I still got…”But there is no reason these people can’t go to Farmer’s Markets or buy better food at the store!”
Farmers’ Markets in particular are a perfect example of the privilege of real food. Only half the Farmers’ Markets in the United States even accept EBT. Even then, SNAP recipients have said that they still cannot afford to buy at the Farmer’s Market, unless that market is one that “doubles”. Some markets ,like my local one, will double your food stamp dollars, which makes it much for affordable but still, not very many markets do this. Forgive me the easy imagery here but not everyone can hop in their Prius with their resusable grocery totes made from organic cotton and jaunt off to the Farmers’ Market for the afternoon.
Real food and non-GMO advocates espouse a concern for our future, our health, the environment. I share this love of real food and from a low income perspective, I see that this advocacy doesn’t go much further than their own kitchens or blogs. Very little is said about the poor people who benefit the most from an overhaul of the current food system. They are devoting the way they eat as a testament to the problems in our food system without recognizing that to do so is a privilege that poor people do not have.
Not being inclusive of the one group of people who is the most subjected to GMOs and unclean food is not complete activism.
They even openly scoff and laugh at the idea that there are people who don’t know how to cook. I could tell you stories about my time working at Head Start. Have you ever watched Jamie Oliver’s show Food Revolution? There’s this part where he’s showing children different vegetables and they have no idea. None. This isn’t just TV-life that it happens. It’s real. If people don’t know what a real food looks like, then how are they supposed to know what to do with it?
The one thing I know is this…
Making fun of people who don’t know something never taught them anything new. It also doesn’t make them want to know. Who wants to learn anything from a pretentious jerk who thinks they’re better than you? There is no shame in being ignorant. It just means you haven’t learned something yet. The person who knows something and chooses to laugh at the person who doesn’t know something is not a good person.
So, from where I’m sitting…in my kitchen, sipping my cheap, non-fair trade coffee that I bought with food stamps (an actual luxury when your food allowance is $2.00 per person a day), there are real food advocates out there who need to get off their ethically bred high horses and be real advocates. Make phone calls to farmers’ markets that don’t accept EBT and encourage them to do so. Teach a cooking class at a community center for low income people. Grow food specifically for the food pantry. Help start community gardens or CSAs with a sliding scale fee for low income people. Teach a basic gardening class. Find out what your local grocery stores do with the food they throw out and start a program that helps rescue that food from going into the trash and into people’s bellies. Get involved politically.
And for the love of the almighty kale, stop judging people for not buying local and organic produce or grass fed beef. Maybe they can’t.Consider your privilege and be grateful for the choices you have. It might help you gain a better perspective and become a better, real advocate.
After publishing my last post about obstacles to gardening when you’re poor, I realized there were maybe one or two points I missed…but then I read my emails and discovered there was more than just one or two things I neglected to mention! Thank you everyone who shared their individual experiences and gave feedback.
More Obstacles To Growing Your Own Food
I’m feeling like a lot of these points are reasons all people,regardless of socio-economic status might not garden.
I can’t believe I missed this one. I lived in a house without running water for awhile. Rain collection barrels helped but it was a pain in the ass.
In drought-afflicted areas, there are tight water restrictions. People who have to pay for water aren’t able to justify using large amounts every day . Rain collecting doesn’t work where it doesn’t rain and some states now prohibit rain collection now.
Sometimes there is no other way to combat animals that eat your garden other than building a fence. Building a deer proof fence…it’s not cheap. If you love in an urban setting, shooting an animal probably isn’t legal and catching them in a humane trap doesn’t do much good if you have no way to transport it outside of the area.
One reader told me, “We managed to grow quite a bit but I ended up giving a lot of it away which seems to defeat the point.I filled my tiny freezer. I didn’t have money to buy a canner, which was too bad since I have enough mason jars to get me through doomsday ,if I could have just filled them with food! I don’t know how to can anyway….”
I can completely understand this. We scored an upright freezer at a yard sale years ago for only $30 and my Faux-MIL gave me a pressure cooker one Christmas. Both are really helpful when you do manage to grow any food in quantity.
“Gardening is fucking HARD!”
Thanks to Melissa for lending me that quoted headline right there. Add to this Shantay’s “Mother Nature sucks sometimes.”
Many readers shared their experience of spending money they did not have because they felt they needed to provide for themselves only to battle with surprise snow storms, bugs,hail,kids,animals,poor soil,plant disease,mildew,drought,flooding…. you know…pretty much every bad thing that can happen when you garden.
Once people have a horrible,no good,very bad experience with gardening, they aren’t likely to venture back into it,especially when they didn’t get a return on their investment the first time.
You can buy seeds with EBT? Who knew!?
It turns out a lot of people on food stamps didn’t even know that. Some people who did know that and had tried to buy seeds using their EBT said that they found limited gardening places that would take EBT and they weren’t interested in GMO seeds at the grocery store. Seed saving from store bought produce only works if you’re absolutely certain of the seed heritage .Most are hybrid and aren’t going to grow right (some won’t produce anything at all).
This part of the program is fairly new ,so perhaps the USDA has more plans to expand upon it .Maybe by offering gardening classes for SNAP & low income people?
Community Garden Plots Cost Money
True story. So do memberships to CSAs…although in my area, there is one CSA that has a sliding fee scale based on income and has a few shares reserved for SNAP recipients.
I received an awesome email from a reader who cannot grow her own food because of several of the original points I mentioned. Her email was long but there was one point I wanted to share:
“Even when I say to someone all the reasons I can’t garden, they throw WHERE THERE’S A WILL,THERE’S A WAY at me. I have will! I WANT to grow my own food! Hand to God cannot do it right now. Otherwise I would! I’ve ALWAYS had a garden and I’m good at it. My will & knowledge isn’t the problem here and it just makes me feel like a giant piece of dog shit when someone lays the guilt trip on me that I’m not doing enough to help feed myself because I don’t have enough will. “
Yeah. The “Where there’s a will,there’s a way” thing is getting old for me,too.
It seems pretty simple. Having a hard time eating? “Grow your own food!”, they say. “They” are usually well meaning and coming from a place of only good intentions, otherwise I’d be whipping out my, “Honey, you better check your privilege!” speech. Which I guess is what I’m doing right now but I want to try to do it gently, in more of a pointing things out kind of way and not the tongue lashing kind of way. People living below the poverty line often feel that the ,”YES, you CAN grow your own food!” sentiment is just another way some people make poor people feel bad about being poor and blame them for not doing more to help themselves.
Growing your own food is undeniably one of the best ways to get fresh, nutritious food economically , and bonus points- ethically & eco-friendly. I will always advocate for self-sufficiency in food when possible. But when someone suggests that a person struggling with food security just simply grow their own food, they’re making the following assumptions:
The person has access to land,space , and the soil it takes to grow food
They are able bodied.
They have time to devote to a garden.
They have a budget to acquire seeds & supplies for starting a garden.
They know how to do it.
Digging deeper (that pun was not intended but it does seem like I didn’t try to hard to avoid it), I want to talk about each assumption separately.
Land & Space To Grow Food
Americans who live in urban areas are more likely to live in poverty than those who don’t live in the city.217 million people receiving food stamps live in urban areas compared to about 62 million in rural areas. Typically, the economically disadvantaged neighborhoods are not the greenest places on earth, which contributes to the food desert clime. In urban areas, the best places for growing food would be balconies,window boxes, fire escapes and rooftops. Not everyone has access to those spaces. If they do have an area they can claim as their own, they may have to consider getting permission from the building owner (who unfortunately, more often than not, is going to give the idea a thumbs down) . Is their hard work only going to be vandalized or destroyed? Is it practical?
I’m an avid gardener but I haven’t always been able to garden, even in rural small town America. I once lived in an apartment building that had a beautiful yard that I saw as potential edible gardens. The owners did not and tenants were only permitted to have small flower pots on the outside stoop. In the house we rent now, our Grey Gardens is A LOT of work for low yield. I’m mainly able to grow all herbs,greens and a few veggies but it’s not nearly enough to put a dent in the food needs of my 7 person family.
Community gardens and CSA co-ops are an excellent solution to this problem but as Novella Carpenter’s experience with her Ghost town Farm ,and other city farmers like the people of LA who founded The Garden can tell us, space in the city is coveted and premium. Meaning, to create sustainable food sources in food deserts, communities need to raise money to own a space to call their own or a benevolent property owner will have to see a reason to give a gift of land to the community.
There’s a strong connection between being a disabled American and being impoverished. Roughly 30% of all disabled people fall below the poverty line. Disabilities is a broad term but a fair amount are physical and even disabilities not considered a physical disability could inhibit someone’s ability to garden.
Under this category, I would also include elderly people…and sadly, the statistics for the number of elderly living in poverty isn’t so great these days.
It isn’t impossible to garden with disabilities or once you reach old age but there are limitations and accessibility issues. Raised garden beds that are wheelchair accessible are a fantastic solution. Community organizations could help fill the need by contributing supplies and assisting with labor.
A common misconception is that poor people don’t work, especially people who receive assistance like SNAP. For example,40% of food stamp recipients are employed full time (and the rest are laregely made up of elderly,disabled, and children) .This isn’t a reflection of all people in poverty, since many do not seek assistance or make just barely over the qualifying limit but still live below the line. Some work part time and are full time students.It isn’t uncommon for a family living below the poverty line to be a two income household or a single parent household working 2 jobs. Underemployment is just as dangerous a place as being unemployed entirely. Time and energy are already being spent on working and/or raising a family in many cases.Gardening? “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.
There’s a popular homesteading page on Facebook that promotes growing your own food as a way to solve your economic hardships. After several posts with the “Poor people should just grow their own food!”, I felt the need to raise some questions, starting with ,”How?”. The response was a very simplistic: People who get food stamps can use their EBT to buy seeds!
Oh. Problem solved!
Except… if a person on food stamps is buying enough seeds to actually provide fully for their family, that’s a huge dent in their food stamp allowance. Many people are not going to be able to put off food they can eat now for seeds. Many food budget decisions are short term when you’re poor because that’s the way it has to be. The creation of more seed banks and seed exchanges would benefit poor gardeners a lot more than their EBT card.
You can’t buy topsoil or potting soil with food stamps. You can’t buy garden tools with food stamps.
If the person has to resort to indoor gardening, EBT isn’t going to buy grow lights. Planting containers… nope, not those either.
It’s fantastic that the USDA allows people to use their EBT to buy seeds but to help people be self-sufficient food providers, there has to be incentives and programs that offset start-up costs for gardening. Teach a man to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime. But you still have to give him a fishing pole.
Some people don’t know the first thing about growing food. That’s not just a poor people thing. There’s a gap in our American modern culture that has a huge disconnect with where our food comes from ,and with nature in general. The bright spot in this deficit is the huge upswing of food education and ag-curriculum programs in schools. My children’s schools all have some type of food education and gardening program. These programs need to be in every school, not just for the gardening knowledge but for the nutrition education. It takes work,parental involvement and community support but it can happen.
The nice benefit that comes from community gardens is that the organizers pass on their knowledge to any adult interested and willing to learn and do the work. Peer education is an incredible free learning tool.
I’m not trying to rain on everyone’s real food parade here by pointing these things out. I’m just trying to raise awareness to the complexities of growing food. It isn’t as simple as just doing it. If a person CAN do it, then I am their loudest cheerleader. I’m just saying, not everyone can, so let’s just stop with the sentiment that says they can. If they really can and want to, everything should be done to cheer them on. If they can’t, so be it. Don’t keep preaching. It doesn’t help. Grow some extra food in your garden and donate it directly to a family or a local food pantry . That would be an excellent way to help.
Communities everywhere should facilitate and encourage gardening and community supported agriculture to solve their local hunger and food security problem. I have asserted time and time again that we already CAN feed every single human being with the food that is wasted in the U.S. . Politics prevents this from happening. With that in mind , it might seem like gardening is a moot point. If there’s already enough food ,why not just focus on managing that correctly and putting it in the people’s mouths? Why garden at all? The great thing that community and home gardens would accomplish is an end to dependency on corporations that grow and distribute the not-so-great food that’s in our system. Bringing food back into local communities and putting the power into people’s hands is best for everyone but everyone needs to work to make this happen. Poverty and food insecurity isn’t going to be eradicated by putting all the responsibility on the people in poverty. Becoming self-sufficient is a huge privilege and the obstacles to achieving it need to be kicked aside by those who already have the possibility of that privilege .