SINCE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, we have been told by parents and teachers to eat a healthy diet. Why? Because comic heroes like Popeye did. If you wanted to be big and strong, you ate foods like spinach. What you weren’t taught in school was how much spinach and other healthy foods cost.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, an American consumer spends more than $500 a month on food for an average of about $6,372 per year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture says that a healthy diet for a family of four costs about $12,600 per year. That figure doesn’t include organic or agriculturally-sustainable foods, so the real number could be in the $18,000 range. Healthy food isn’t cheap! Organic food costs more for a variety of economically legitimate reasons. These include labor costs, the scale of production or targeted federal subsidies that don’t reach organic food growers.
Cost is only one side of the problem; let’s not forget about accessibility to healthy food. If an area lacks accessibility to full-service grocery stores and to affordable healthy food choices, it is commonly referred to as a food desert. This is an area located more than one mile from a 10,000 square foot-sized grocery store. Gas stations and fast-food restaurants don’t qualify. There are 42 neighborhoods in Franklin County that are considered food deserts. These neighborhoods are home to about 99,400 people, or about eight percent of the total county population. There are 92 major grocery stores and nearly 600 fast-food restaurants countywide. The abundance of fast-food fare makes it much easier and cheaper to get to a drive-through window than to a grocery store. That’s a problem that needs to be addressed by the community at large.
Efforts to improve access to produce are already underway in Columbus. In fact, an exciting program was announced last month to make fresh produce more affordable for cash-strapped households. A consortium of six farmers’ markets will make more affordable, fresh, local produce available for low-income Columbus residents with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits through a program called Veggie SNAPs. The City of Columbus and Franklin County will cover the costs for SNAP recipients at participating farmers’ markets, including Bexley, Clintonville, Columbus Public Health, the Franklin Park Conservatory, Franklinton Gardens and Pearl Market.
Pearl Market piloted a similar program last year and saw an increase in their SNAP transactions by 134 percent in 2013, compared to the 2012 season. Franklin County and Columbus officials expect similar results under the expanded Veggie SNAPS program. The purpose is not only to create access and provide food sustainability for residents who rely on government food assistance, but also to educate consumers and boost the local economy.
Supporting our local farmers markets is good for Ohio’s top industry – agriculture – which contributes over $79 billion to our state’s economy. Data also shows that food incentive programs help to stimulate the economy, with an estimated $1.70 of economic activity resulting from every $1 in SNAP benefits.
The Veggie SNAPs program is even more important following the reduction of the 2014 Farm Bill which cut $8.6 billion from the Federal SNAP program, drastically affecting low-income families by making fresh produce prohibitive on a tighter SNAP budget. Of Franklin County’s 215,694 SNAP recipients, about 48 percent are children. As a community, we must continue to address food deserts and use tools like Veggies SNAPS to add to the overall local food security and protect our most vulnerable residents from the destructive consequences of poor child nutrition.
Participating Franklin County Farmers’ Markets
Bexley Farmers’ Market
T: 4 – 7 p.m.
L: 2111 E Main St
Clintonville Farmers’ Market
D: Saturdays through Nov. 22
T: 9 a.m. – Noon
D: Wednesdays through Aug. 20
T: 4 – 7 p.m.
L: N High St at Dunedin Rd
Columbus Public Health
D: Thursday: Aug. 7 & Aug. 14
T: 10 a.m. – 1 p.m.
L: 240 Parsons Avenue
Franklin Park Conservatory & Botanical Gardens Farmers’ Market
D: Wednesdays through Oct. 1
T: 3:30 – 6:30 p.m.
L: 1777 E Broad St
Franklinton Produce Market
D: Mondays and Wednesday
T: 4 – 7 p.m.
L: 1003 W Town St
D: Tuesdays & Thursdays through Oct. 30
T: 10:30 a.m. – 2 p.m.
L: Alleyways between Broad, High, Gay and Third Sts
Learn more about Veggie SNAPS: