Two things you can do today to make the American food system better: Part 2

Author: Kate Fitzgerald

As we said yesterday, you can help create the food system you would like for this country. Today, let’s look at the second easy action you can take to make your voice heard as the government gets back up to speed.

USDA has a little problem with bad publicity for the SNAP program. Although the vast majority of stores and consumers are honest, the bit of fraud that occurs gives the program a bad name and can add up to a tidy sum of taxpayer dollars.

Most of the ‘trafficking’ happens in small stores, and the Agriculture Department is wrestling with ways to crack down on the bad actors without making it harder for low-income families to buy food. Convenience stores are often the only option for people who live in communities without full-service grocery stores, and no one wants to make it harder to buy milk or bread or an apple.


Some thoughts on what could help:

  • One obvious way to improve consumers’ access to affordable, nutritious food would be to make it easier for farmers’ markets, farmstands, CSA’s (community supported agriculture), and mobile markets to be authorized to accept SNAP benefits. There are more than 8,000 farmers’ markets in the U.S. but less than half accept SNAP benefits.
  • A big part of the problem is that there is just one application to accept SNAP benefits and it is completely inappropriate for non-traditional food retailers. Creating an application for farmers’ markets would allow USDA to collect the information it needs to ensure program integrity while allowing farmers to serve low-income customers.
  • USDA could also help SNAP participants choose healthy food by letting them know that their benefits can be used at many farmers’ markets. Most of USDA’s SNAP information is geared towards shopping at supermarkets, leaving many recipients thinking that they cannot use their benefits at markets. A second easy step would be for USDA to start giving equal promotional time to farm-direct healthy food retail. Why not tell the agency that?

USDA is asking for citizen input before October 21, and it couldn’t be easier to tell them what you think. You can find a letter that FFN submitted here.

And there you have it: two simple actions you can take today to help create a healthy, sustainable food system for all in spite of the government shut down. Don’t put it off – as Nike would say, “Just do it.”