Our Opinion: Assist for Wholesome Meals, Grown Domestically | editorial
One of the great things about this season is the proliferation of farmers’ markets and farm stalls selling the very best in fresh local fruit, vegetables, milk, eggs, and meat. The availability of locally grown produce can expand many palates and certainly raise the bar for healthier eating.
Thanks to recent efforts by Senator Anne Gobi, a Spencer Democrat who successfully campaigned for a change to be made to the state budget to keep the healthy incentives program running for a year, thousands of food insecure people can remain healthy shop groceries with this grant.
Launched in 2017, HIP offers dollar-for-dollar matching for every dollar spent on the Supplemental Nutrition Access Program. SNAP, formerly known as grocery stamps, helps people who meet certain income criteria purchase groceries, while HIP benefit can be used specifically for fresh produce grown by local farmers. Approximately 63,000 households in Bay State received HIP services at local farmer’s markets, farm stalls, mobile markets, and community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs) in the past fiscal year.
The program has many supporters among Massachusetts farmers, many of whom accept HIP payments for their produce. With the aim of improving access to locally grown produce for SNAP customers, the program helps families buy healthy food while supporting farms and the local economy.
For example, Farmers Markets in Newburyport and Andover have farmers who welcome HIP purchases, making the markets even more of a magnet for people looking for everything from kale and kohlrabi to zucchini and strawberries.
Ellen Townson, who campaigns for food insecurity in the Merrimack Valley, recently told reporter Madeline Hughes that Andover has nearly 1,500 people receiving SNAP benefits that they can easily take advantage of at the weekly farmers market. There’s even an information booth where people can redeem their benefits for tokens to give to vendors who can’t directly take advantage of the SNAP benefits.
The Andover Market has also raised funds so that it can raise $ 10 each week for each SNAP recipient, which makes its ability to purchase healthy groceries even better.
“I want people to know because nobody should be hungry and have access to fresh food,” said Townson.
People faced with food insecurity know when they reached this wall. So what could stop them from going to the state website and claiming SNAP benefits?
The Greater Boston Food Bank surveyed adults who faced food insecurity during the pandemic and found that only 1 in 3 reported using pantries and 1 in 2 who took advantage of SNAP benefits. According to the Food Bank, “The majority of those who suffered from food insecurity but did not use either resource chose not to because they wanted to be self-sufficient. The desire for self-sufficiency was cited as the main reason for not using pantries (74%) and the main reason for not participating in SNAP (73%). “
Other reasons cited were embarrassment (58% of those who didn’t go to a pantry; 46% of those who didn’t attend SNAP) or fear that other people would find out.
Gobi, the state senator who urged HIP funding for the coming year, is co-chair of the Massachusetts Legislative Food Systems Caucus and said she has seen firsthand the success of HIP since its inception.
When her amendment was incorporated into the version of the Senate State Budget, she touted the benefits of the program.
“Every dollar spent stays in the state,” she said. “It’s flowing back into the local economy, helping farmers protect their land and helping our citizens stay fit and using their SNAP dollars to buy fresh fruits and vegetables via less healthy options.”
Making sure everyone has access to and can afford healthy food is a community benefit that we can all stand behind.