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The case for food stamps

 
pollinator
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So, I am well aware there is a MAJOR case to be made against food stamps. Some of these arguments have been brought up on other threads. As they are used they are almost certainly another giant subsidy towards Agribusiness. I've know many a crusty 'anarchist' for whom they are a way of life and I can see the anger that this could generate. I also am aware that may companies including fortune 500s (*cough* WALMART *cough*) pay their employees (and structure hours) in such away that food stamps exist as a way to subsidize they're record profits in a way that is truely broken. I don't want to talk about that, although I suppose inevitable it will get brought up - and that's cool. What I'd like to do is make an argument the food stamps could infact be a very very positive force in affecting near major relatively rapid change, and here is how.

1) Most farmers markets take food stamps - if yours doesn't hassle them - it is an easy process to get that remedied. In effect this turns the consciousnesses consumer (who qualifies for food stamps) into a walking government subsidy for Local organic (or better than organic!) produce. This is how I justified keeping my food stamps after (long story involving under-payed employment, romantic inclinations, work divisions, and finally unemployment) because I could personally chose which individual producers to support and then support them with 200$ a month. That's no laughing matter. Not times 10. or 50. or 500. There are more people in your community relying on government assistance than you probably think.

2) You can buy food plants and seeds with them. No shit. You can get seed potatoes, apple trees, onion sets, radish seeds. Anything. 200$ a month is an extraordinary amount of seed. Food stamps 'roll over' if you only spend 130 one month you have 270 the next and so on and so forth. The hardest part of this is to get the middle management of your local farm and garden store to pursue this. Never have I had to spend so much time convincing people to spend 10 minutes to open themselves up for thousands of dollars of sales a month.

How many people are out there hating their jobs just barely making end meet while sitting on freeways, burning gas in offices burning electricity and hacking down vast timber stands for the copy machine? What if a good portion decided "you know I'm going to buy rice and beans for 6 months, quit my job, and landscape my own house" What if a whole neighborhood did this? And if after putting 6 months into their property they all desired.... I worked for this place, I made a real change here - Fuck the banks who hold the mortgage. This is ours now! It could result in a very rapid societal shift....


Anyway, just a thought from the position of least change/ most good. This is an option that is currently available.
 
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I knew a guy from Buffalo NY. who collected food stamps. He used his wisely. Some in his community were keen to convert theirs to cash. He facilitated that, and profited from the stupidity of drunks.

They're not perfect, but without them, many poor kids wouldn't eat.

I think it's great if stamps are used for farm produce. Sugar and fat laden crap should not be things that they buy.
 
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Interesting conversation. Landon - I too was on food stamps when it took THREE YEARS for me to win my disability case (never mind that I was bedridden for two of those yrs - apparently I was not "disabled" enough - ok, rant over). Not even "prepper Jen" had three years of savings AND enough put aside for massive medical bills....

Once I was well enough, I also took advantage of being able to buy seeds and food plants - it's an awesome benefit of food stamps. But you have to have knowledge and/or space to grow stuff. Many on food stamps lack one or both of these. And some climates are not kind to beginner gardeners (like mine here in the desert). I also used food stamps at our farmer's markets - that was a huge boon, too. And....I also used them to purchase soda. Yep - soda. Because being on chemo drugs makes you want to gak all the time. Soda was one of the things that actually soothed some of that and allowed me to eat nutritious stuff. Now I find out from a pharmacist friend of mine that cola syrup is sold as an anti-gak medicine - who knew?
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Addressing Jennifer's "you have to have knowledge and/or space to grow stuff. Many on food stamps lack one or both of these" Which is very true.

There is something to be said about the pursuit of knowledge, and in the above hypothetical of a bunch of people say 'to hell with with it, I'm quitting this shitty job' does tend to free up enough time to make one able to pursue it. There is starting to be a large amount of quality resources publicly available as evident by this site. I think if there was more food being produce there would be more foods brought to markets and more availability for buyers. I think the public is slowly starting to inform itself especially as it comes to health, environment, and food. I think a real movement with which to garner real media attention could do nothing but further this growing awareness.

Actually, I think one could make a fairly sound argument for maintaining and even increasing food stamps* on grounds both of economics and national security. Agricultural Commodities are going through the roof. Corn is up more than Gold over the last half decade and decade both. More domestic food productions means that we can continue to feed our population (sorry Dale!) cheaply and effectively while maintaining or even increasing exports. Agriculture always has and always will be one of America's chief assets. Secondly, on grounds of National Security. As has been mentioned before a Hungry person is a desperate person. I was in Egypt during the bread riots and that was back when it, Libya , and Syria where still functioning states. A legitimate oil for food economy may be the only way to maintain any stability in this vital part of the world



Edit:
*And the use I am suggesting they be put towards. Also open to other suggestions for getting the Permaculture off the ground.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I grew up around USAID project (my dad is a civil engineer - water/waste water) and there were "food for work" programs associated with getting these systems installed in villages. Some people (mostly women and children) would work and some (mostly men) would not. Could be the way the social norms were constructed in those countries. And yes - these were systems that the villagers agreed that they wanted.

I've done some work around food justice here in the US too. As usual, most people talk a good game and few actually do the work. I was part of a "think tank" for lack of a better term, here at the local university - this group was primarily comprised of professors and grad students thinking up ways to get food to folks in food deserts - a noble goal. However, very, very few of them had any experience dealing with the communities that needed the assistance OR with growing food in our harsh desert climates (the lack of water and the need to pay for irrigation being a big issue for people living at poverty level). They also didn't distinguish that there are a number of different types of people who are on assistance - let's use food stamps. These include:
--people who come from a long line of being on "assistance" and have no other perspective or motivation to change things
--people who find themselves on food stamps due to some kind of crisis or challenge (disability, illness, single parent, care of child with disability, care of elderly, etc) - these folks mostly don't have the time/physical stamina to do any kind of gardening and my buy whatever quickie foods they can lay hands on - usually from a convenience store because there are no grocery stores in their neighborhood and they don't have a car to drive to one.
--Then there are those that you are talking about, who say "to hell with this job" and have so little other means that they end up on food stamps. These folks often have the education and sometimes the land (or access to someone with land) to grow food. These are the people you are referring to above. They have a plan and they are probably not pressed by other constraints or lack of vision on how things could be different.

Long term success needs to be encouraged - this is often the most critical part of any project and the one that is most neglected (what else is new?) In my experience (and trust me, I've done this MYSELF), people are happy to fund the initial setup and help build a project out as there are lots of "feel good vibes" and interest associated with this. It's the day-to-day, long term sustainability where things start to get a little wonky. No glory is associated with this phase and very little, if any, support.

Here's a project by a group I helped found. It started off great and then petered out to nothing due to lack of funding. Money really is necessary. There was no money to support our staff OR our programs. Thus it died.

 
pollinator
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Landon Sunrich wrote:

1) Most farmers markets take food stamps -


2) You can buy food plants and seeds with them. No shit. You can get seed potatoes, apple trees, onion sets, radish seeds. Anything. 200$ a month is an extraordinary amount of seed. Food stamps 'roll over' if you only spend 130 one month you have 270 the next and so on and so forth. The hardest part of this is to get the middle management of your local farm and garden store to pursue this. Never have I had to spend so much time convincing people to spend 10 minutes to open themselves up for thousands of dollars of sales a month.



Our farmers market does take food stamps.

I had no idea about the seeds and food plants though! I've never seen any signs for that anywhere. Not in any garden supply place or even Walmart which has a big garden center. Are they afraid of cannibalizing their food sales?
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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CJ - I think it may be a case of "not knowing" or, "knowing but not taking the time to set it up" - in other words - they have to be set up to take food stamps for food plants/seeds and (in most states), take off the tax as food generally isn't taxed.
 
Cj Sloane
pollinator
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I can see why the garden stores aren't set up but Walmart is already set up for food stamps. Do they charge tax on seeds?

I was chagrined a few months ago when the 20 lb bag of black oil sunflower seeds was taxed at Tractor Supply. I had bought them for my chickens and turkeys and dedicated poultry feed is not taxed.
 
Jennifer Wadsworth
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I've personally never shopped at Walmart - so I don't know. However, I have used food stamps to purchase seeds in larger grocery stores and they did NOT charge tax on those seeds. Not sure if they charged tax on say, flower seeds.... Didn't pay that close of attention (now I'm wondering about sunflower seeds, nasturtiums, etc - as they are technically "food").
 
pollinator
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Cj Verde wrote:
I had no idea about the seeds and food plants though! I've never seen any signs for that anywhere. Not in any garden supply place or even Walmart which has a big garden center. Are they afraid of cannibalizing their food sales?



No, they just don't want to waste marketing on something no one would buy

Anytime you try to come up with a "one-size-fits-all" answer, it fails. You can have universal principles and truth, but actions have to account for local conditions.

 
Dale Hodgins
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I assume that most who are on food stamps are experiencing an immediacy of need that precludes long term food planning. Even if some could squeeze some seeds and seedlings into their budget, the idea of doing that will not be top of mind for most. I'll bet if we had one of those maps that show population densities according to stamp usage, it would show that many are surrounded by hardscapes that aren't conducive to agriculture either physically or culturally. Many will also live in what Micheal Moore would call a retail food desert, where the stores stock lots of crap and not much in the way of fruit, vegetables and dry goods.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Hmmmm...

I still think that while not perhaps offering a 'one size fits all' solution this is still and Idea that bears some thought and merit as a way to quickly begin to implement a permacultural shift - a goal I would hope all present will agree is worthy of pursuit.

I think that there is in fact a rather large group of people who would be able to act on this. And, as I mentioned earlier - more good food being grow will by necessity mean more organic food brought to market and a decrees in prices making them more competitive with conventional agriculture in areas which are unable to produce their own. So - According to feedingamerica.org 76% of SNAP households included a child, an elderly person, or a disabled person. These vulnerable households receive 83% of all SNAP benefits.

http://feedingamerica.org/how-we-fight-hunger/programs-and-services/public-assistance-programs/supplemental-nutrition-assistance-program/snap-myths-realities.aspx

Notice that first one. How many families right now are in a position where the lose of one parents job would result in the necessity to enroll? Quite a few. I know most people wish they could have more time to spend with their children. And what better way to spend it than turning a small yard into a food jungle playground.
Check out these statistics for the by state distribution of food stamps. Look at the top states. These people have yards. Some of them do anyway.

http://www.statisticbrain.com/food-stamp-statistics/

As a slight aside perhaps, didn't Robert Hart start his food forest to care for his disabled brother? One could do so to help care for a beloved elder in the same manor. Finally, I've met plenty of perfectly physically able people who have be labeled 'disabled' because they are at war with a delusional society. Most of them roll with it.

Also, anyone else scene those youtube videos of stack after stack of plastic totes by the rail lines? How many aquaponics systems do you 'reccon could be set up with those and 150 dollar voucher good at walmart or home depot? I mean yeah, it would take the tiniest shred of central planning. But I bet you'd get 20 percent of cars out of the commute with the stroke of a pen.
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Cj Verde wrote:

I had no idea about the seeds and food plants though! I've never seen any signs for that anywhere. Not in any garden supply place or even Walmart which has a big garden center.



I read the fine print.

Sometimes I read the print so fine I end up falling through the cracks between the lines.
 
Dale Hodgins
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A fellow named Eric sent me the link to this food stamp map which shows where food stamps are used. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2009/11/28/us/20091128-foodstamps.html?_r=1&

This topic doesn't seem like the sort of political hot potato that needs to be in the Cider Press. It seems like a farm income issue. If we could get farmer's markets and garden centers to take food stamps, this would benefit the farmer and the family that needs the stamps.

Landon, as the OP, would you object to a move to farm income ? Would other contributors object ?
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Here's the best idea I've had in minutes . Wouldn't it be great if families who are dependent on food stamps could receive an additional bunch of stamps that could only be used for seed, plant starts and trees to start their own garden. I'm sure that community groups would step up to provide cost free oversight and planning help for those who sign up. In order to keep the accountants happy, it could be agreed that a year down the road, their allotment of stamps would be reduced for a few months until the cost to the program has been recovered. I could see this idea being embraced by the most "heart bleeding Democrat" and by the staunchest " get a job you bum, Republican". The states are going to spend money feeding the poor. They've been doing it since the 1930s. This would be very similar to those micro loan programs that have worked so well in India and elsewhere. Americas poor would benefit and in the long run, tax payers would benefit as well.

Can I get an amen!!!
 
Landon Sunrich
pollinator
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Go for it. I don't mind hearing the opinions of everyone. Neat idea Dale.
 
Landon Sunrich
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Cj Verde wrote:I can see why the garden stores aren't set up but Walmart is already set up for food stamps.



I decided to check this out a few weeks ago while I was in town. Walmart is set up to take foodstamps for seeds. Just swipe your card and no questions asked.
 
steward
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In one of the areas that I am looking for properties, the county has their own "food vouchers" above and beyond the state issued "food stamps". These stamps are only given to seniors, and they are only good at farmer's markets within the county. Besides helping the seniors get access to fresh, organic fruits/vegetables, it is also helping the local farmers by assuring that each senior will have $60 per summer that will be spent with the local growers. These are each $5 vouchers. You can spend one each week that the market is open, or spend all 12 of them the first day.

 
Landon Sunrich
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That's really cool John.That's exactly the sort of program that should be getting funding. Benefits those in need and gives a leg up to small business. I know that every market I've worked at also takes the WIC checks which are issued to mothers with young children and seniors. Getting the knowledge out there and making the goods accessible seem to be the largest hurdles.
 
John Polk
steward
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I just did some quick math: County population x %age >65 x $60 per summer.

Comes to $337,000.
That is certainly enough to help local farmers keep going to the farmer's markets.
It's also a lot of healthier food than the supermarkets offer.
Keeps more of the county's money in the local economy.

To me, that is a Win/Win program.
 
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