With schoolhouses emptied out and kids all across the state free for the summer, the enjoyment of popsicles and ice cream during these hot days comes to mind. But summer is also a good time to consider how we can increase access to fresh, healthy food for all Georgia families. When kids aren’t eating breakfast and lunch at school, what are they eating?
In Georgia, nearly 2 million residents, including about 500,000 children, live in food deserts. The United States Department of Agriculture defines food deserts as parts of the country, usually in impoverished areas, which are lacking fresh fruit, vegetables and other healthful whole foods. This is primarily due to a lack of grocery stores, farmers markets and healthy food retailers.
With that, more than 1.4 million Georgians are considered food-insecure and receive SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamp) benefits. The high cost and low accessibility of fresh foods leave these 1.4 million with limited options to feed their families. It is well documented that food insecurity is linked to poverty, obesity and other diet-related illnesses.
Fortunately, summer is also farmers market season, and Georgia Fresh for Less is helping communities increase access to the fresh, healthy, locally grown food sold at the markets. Formerly known as the Double SNAP program, Georgia Fresh for Less has incentivized thousands of Georgians to buy local produce since it started in 2009.
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This year, Wholesome Wave Georgia will partner with 60 different producer-only farmers markets and direct marketing farms throughout Georgia — including the Mulberry Farmers Market in Macon and one each in nearby Jeffersonville, Milledgeville, Perry and Warner Robins — to offer Georgia Fresh for Less and double the purchasing power of federal nutrition assistance recipients.
It’s simple: families get twice as much at the farmers market with Georgia Fresh for Less. The program matches SNAP benefits — dollar for dollar — at participating farmers markets, so consumers pay less for fresh and local food that is higher quality and more nutritious. In 2016, $221,000 in SNAP benefits were matched, allowing low-income, food insecure families to purchase $442,000 worth of this healthier food.
By increasing the affordability of the farmers markets, Georgia Fresh for Less makes nourishing choices accessible for Georgia’s food insecure families and promotes healthy eating habits. Nearly 90 percent of program participants surveyed reported an increase in farmers market visits since using the program. Additionally, 80 percent of participants surveyed said they increased their produce consumption, and 73 percent said they tried something new.
Also, by bringing more low-income families to the farmers markets, the program empowers the farmers to raise awareness of healthy food choices among diverse audiences. It helps more Georgians connect with local growers, which strengthens local communities and pumps money back into those communities. In fact, the program has contributed more than $2 million to the state’s food economy since 2009.
The economic impact of SNAP is powerful; according to the USDA, every $5 of SNAP equals $9 of economic activity. If every SNAP recipient in Georgia spent $10 at a farmers market each year, it would generate $25 million in economic activity spread across the state.
Simply put, Georgia Fresh for Less makes nutritional choices affordable for all of Georgia’s families, supports Georgia farmers, builds community and pumps money back into the local economy. Please spread the word to anyone you know that could benefit from Georgia Fresh for Less, and encourage your local farmers market to participate if it doesn’t already so that even more Georgia families have access to fresh, locally grown food.
Sara Berney is the executive director of Wholesome Wave Georgia. A list of Georgia Fresh for Less participating farmers markets can be found at WholesomeWaveGeorgia.org/find-a-market or shoppers can call 404-618-1782 for assistance.