For Healthy Meals Can the Box, Don't Box the Cans

For Healthy Meals Can the Box, Don't Box the Cans
Posted March 15, 2018

When the Trump administration first released its budget proposal for the 2018-2019 federal fiscal year, I instantly thought that I should use this space to share information about the proposal and its potentially devastating effects with my colleagues and allies. At that moment I couldn’t imagine anything more significant than cutting 6.7% from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) while eliminating the Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI), Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP) and Local Food Promotion Program (LFPP). Then I learned about an even more absurd proposal: “America’s Harvest Box.”

In the America’s Harvest Box concept, a pre-selected shipment of “staple, shelf-stable foods” would be distributed to families on SNAP, known as CalFresh in California. Families who receive the Box would receive significantly smaller SNAP benefits with which they could shop, based upon the assumption that they would need less other food since their family would be filling up on the peanut butter and canned beans from the Box.

The supporters of the Box compared it to the Blue Apron meal delivery service. While I am not a subscriber to a meal service – preferring instead to get my produce directly from the farmers I know – I have dined with friends from their meal service deliveries. My initial analysis is that the only similarity to a meal delivery service is that food arrives in a box. The meal delivery services that I have experienced are based upon the concept of providing everything but a few staples while the Box concept appears to be based on providing some staples without any concern for whether or not they represent a complete or balanced meal.

The diversion of SNAP funds into filling and delivering Boxes is also concerning. The transition from paper food stamps to electronic benefits delivered via a debit card was done, in part, to reduce administrative costs associated with tracking millions of pieces of paper and to provide a more secure method of delivering benefits to those in need. The America’s Harvest Box concept appears to double down on all of those problems that the current electronic benefit system was designed to address. Anyone who has ever worried about an Amazon delivery disappearing from their front porch should be able to imagine the stress a family would endure if the Box containing most of their food for an entire month should go missing, when they don’t have the financial means to buy food to replace it.

If the Box concept were put into place I fear that it would discourage SNAP recipients from buying fresh produce; if a family receives a gallon can of green beans in their Box they are not likely to seek out fresh green beans, especially when they have less resources with which to buy food. Nothing in this concept would alter the current constraints of our industrial food system that make it difficult, if not impossible, for small-scale growers to sell to canneries whose products would be in the Box. The result would be an even smaller pool of customers for small-scale farmers who rely upon farmers’ markets. The financial impact would be huge. If CalFresh spending were cut in half to divert funds to pay for delivery of Boxes, it would mean a $130,000 drop in annual sales for farmers selling at PCFMA’s farmers’ markets.

With concepts like this being discussed at the federal level it is more important than ever that all of us who care about small-scale farmers and farmers’ markets work together to support policies that offer opportunities for farmers to sustain and grow their businesses, rather than policies that threaten their futures. I am very proud to have been elected last month to the Board of the national Farmers Market Coalition. This organization is doing incredible work to collect and share information about how farmers’ markets nationwide are connecting farmers to consumers, bringing communities together, and increasing access to farm-fresh foods. I look forward to supporting their efforts.

Thank you for your support of PCFMA, our farmers’ markets, and our farmers.

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