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Food Stamps and Farm Bill Meet at Farmers’ Markets

As a rhetorical tool in their war on the poor, Republican class warriors like to argue that Congress should separate the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (a.k.a. food stamps) from the Farm Bill. State Rep. Stace Nelson made the point in his interview with KELO-AM's Greg Belfrage last week. Rep. Kristi Noem acknowledges the need to keep food stamps in the farm bill only as a pragmatic tool to get the urban votes necessary to keep alive her husband's crop insurance profits.

But helping people eat—and eat well!—is as integral to farm legislation as helping people grow what we eat. That simple logic becomes obvious when you see the benefits to eaters and growers of connecting food stamps and farmers' markets:

Since 2009 the number of farmers markets accepting food stamps has tripled to more than 3,000 nationwide, according to the Farmers Market Coalition, an advocacy group. In that time, food stamp redemptions at markets have shot up four times, to more than $16 million a year. Those trends can continue with incentive programs and a promotion fund that helps equip farmers markets with the technology they need to accept food stamps, said Jen O’Brien, the group’s executive director.

“I think the point has been made that farmers’ markets are having a positive impact on the health of their communities and particularly the health of their low-income citizens,” she said. “The money goes directly to local farmers, so it’s really building agriculture at the same time it’s feeding hungry people who need those fresh foods the most.”

For now, incentive programs across the U.S. are financed privately through donors and the support of foundations. In Philadelphia, where food stamp recipients can earn an additional $2 toward produce for every $5 in food stamps they spend at farmers’ markets, food stamp sales have increased nearly four times since the incentive program began in 2009, according to the Food Trust, a national organization that operates 25 markets in the city. The group also supports Healthy Food Financing, which got its start in Pennsylvania in 2004 as a public-private partnership on $30 million in state funding. That money has led to the creation of 88 grocery options for underserved communities and 5,000 jobs that were either created or retained with the help of tens of millions in private investment, according to PolicyLink, a national research and advocacy group [Chris Kardish, "How the Farm Bill Could Encourage Unhealthy Eating for Food Stamp Users," Governing, 2013.11.11].

Dr. Kevin Weiland of Rapid City has talked about how the Farm Bill encourages unhealthy eating by promoting subsidies for large corporate farms and commodity crops instead of the small-scale local production of fruits and vegetables. Kardish's article also notes that the harsh cuts already imposed on SNAP recipients only make it harder for low-income folks receiving food assistance to put healthy food on their kids' plates.

Food production and food consumption are inextricably linked. Making policy for production separate from policy for consumption is politically ineffective and economically unwise. Helping farmers' markets use food stamps makes enormous political and practical sense. It helps low-income folks eat better. Just as importantly, it helps more small-scale farmers sell their product and make money. Food stamps at farmers' markets are more logical than any other form of farm subsidy: instead of the government paying big farmers for food they didn't grow, we help local farmers sell more of the food they do grow directly to their neighbors.

Food stamps make sense at farmers' markets. Food stamps make sense in the Farm Bill.


  1. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.11.13


  2. Jerry 2013.11.13

    Thanks CAH for the audio of Nelson's nonsense regarding the separation of food stamps from the farm bill. It amazes me more each day the complete lack of business sense these new republicans have regarding the very nature of what makes our business registers light up with purchases. You can go into any grocery store that accepts EBT and see that they are selling merchandise that comes directly from farms and ranches (that is why they are called food stamps Mr. Nelson). One of the things that you will not see is a venue that has the EBT access that does not sell beef as well as grocery items. What do these new republicans have against legitimate business interests? Each sale of food items goes directly into the pockets of ag producers including ranchers. By hurting and hating the poor, they will be making ranch and ag producers poor as well and put them in the same predicament of needing SNAP. It has happened before.

    What the people on SNAP need is better access to good freshly grown food. In fact, it could even open up a thriving small business ag business that would grow the produce for those sales as in greenhouses for year round production. Beef producers as well as lamb and pork producers could put their products up for EBT sales at these farmers markets as well. New republicans just are clueless on how to start business interests, totally clueless. Instead, they want to eliminate competition, the very backbone of capitalism. To add further insult to injury, new republicans want you to give to ranchers that had losses. They do not want to pass a FARM BILL, they want you to have the responsibility of the new republicans failure to do their jobs and they all support one another in that failure. Vote anyone but a new republican, as they are unfit for duty to govern.

  3. Kevin Weiland 2013.11.14

    Good Post, Cory. You drummed up an article I wrote in 2010. I still have the Twinkie sitting on my shelve in the office.
    Interesting though, we never really started talking about childhood obesity, until several years after the Freedom to Harm Act...I mean, Farm act of 1996. I was clueless about the subject until I was called to the Emergency Room as I was the City Physician on call to admit patients. It was a 15 year old with new diagnoses of Diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Yes, he was morbidly obese. I am an Internist (Physician for Adults) I told the ED Doc requesting my help. The Pediatrician on call at the time was not used to treating all of these comorbid diseases in one patient, so they deferred the teen to my service. Today, treating adult diseases in children as a result of childhood obesity is pretty much routine for all pediatrician's.

  4. caheidelberger Post author | 2013.11.14

    That article stuck in my mind, Kevin, because it made such a compelling point: farm policy needs to be food policy. A farm bill that looks only at the bottom line for farmers floods the market with cheap, unhealthy food. Why pay farmers to grow stuff that's not good for us?

    Jerry gets it: instead of subsidizing on the supply end, why not subsidize on the demand end? Help hungry people buy more good food. I can't think of a simpler, more logical, and more moral food policy than that.

  5. Deb Geelsdottir 2013.11.14

    Jerry, I think the corrupt Republicans don't care about business. They care about feeding their sociopathic, obscenely rich benefactors so that the politician's personal gravy train keeps running, even picking up speed!

  6. joseph g thompson 2013.11.14

    Mr. Weiland,
    In your opinion is the primary purpose of SNAP to help the farmer or help low income people eat. If the primary purpose is to help the farmer then it belongs in the ag bill, but if the primary purpose is to help low income people, then maybe it belongs in the HHS budget.

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