Central Wis. works on bridging wholesome dietary variations
(WSAW) – The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released its findings on the barriers faced by people participating in the supplementary nutrition support program when trying to maintain a healthy diet. It found that almost nine out of ten people have some kind of barrier.
The cost of healthy food is one, with 61% of people saying it was a problem, and research found these people are twice as likely to experience food insecurity. Almost a third said they did not have time to prepare meals from scratch. Transportation was another common hurdle, with 19% of people noticing this challenge.
“The most interesting thing about this research is not what makes people at SNAP different from people not at SNAP, but that we all struggle to eat healthily,” said Kelly Hammond, Portage and Wood Counties FoodWIse coordinator for UW- Madison Extension said. “You know, we come home from work, people are hungry, it’s time to eat. We have many fast food restaurants in our area; we have many convenience stores; We have a lot of mom and pop shops and fewer grocery stores. “
Approximately 12% of Portage County are eligible for SNAP benefits. More than 40% of students are entitled to free or discounted meals at school, and child poverty and SNAP are around 20%. The SNAP program offers a monthly allocation of funds that go onto a card that people can swipe to pay for food. There are some limitations. It cannot be used to pay for hot meals; It has to be fresh or food that can be taken home to be prepared.
Hammond’s job is to remove the barriers to people taking advantage of SNAP benefits to eat healthily by providing educational programs, providing evidence-based research analysis to existing key Wisconsin programs, or doing research to answer local questions about whether something is effective or not will help reduce, break down barriers. One of these local disparities that Hammond has studied for several years is the ability of people to purchase fresh, healthy, local foods at farmers markets in Central Wisconsin.
“If you buy your groceries with cash, you can go to a farmers market. If you buy your groceries with credit or with SNAP benefits, this farmers market is not available to you, ”she said.
She noted that only the farmers markets in central Wisconsin have the ability to process electronic credit transfers, Wisconsin Rapids, Waupaca, and some Wausau have the ability to do EBT, and these programs could be improved.
“There are many reasons. It’s expensive, it’s time-consuming, there’s a lot of technology behind it, and a farmers market isn’t just one entity, it’s not just one person managing the market, it’s a collection of farmers. So you have to find a solution that works for everyone in this market, ”she explained.
Often these programs run on a token system with a tent in the market in which people are physically present who process the EBT cards, pay the processing fee and distribute tokens for the participants to be used by the providers. Individual vendors can do the processing themselves but must purchase the equipment and learn the systems, which can cost anywhere from $ 100 to $ 1,000 with no processing fees.
She said the programs that are out there are run by people who believe it is a program worth making sure people have access to “bootstrap programs.” These programs are made possible through several partnerships with regional organizations such as Central Rivers Farmshed. The Farmshed is also breaking down other barriers by offering cooking demonstrations, food fairs, food programs and mobile pantries to give people better access to healthy, local food.
“Once we have the champions to back it, an organization or a nonprofit farmshed can step in and fill in the gaps where groundwork might actually matter,” said Trevor Drake, interim manager of the farmshed.
Hammond believes this access is a system-level problem. She called for it to be a state benefit that should be funded by the government to ensure access. There were initiatives to fund support for SNAP access in the governor’s original biennial budget, but they were eventually discontinued. Hammond has since applied for a $ 200,000 grant to meet the unique needs of each key market in Wisconsin to improve that access.
“The evidence is really strong that if we improve access to fresh local food, people will buy it,” she said.
“These dollars and these people are in our church. So if you support them, you will continue to build jobs and a more resilient community to live in, ”added Drake.
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