March 29, 2013
A USDA study contends that healthy foods like fruits and vegetables are often no more expensive than less-nutritious foods such as processed foods. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke to a crowd from the aisles of a Hy-Vee Grocery Store in Sioux Falls, South Dakota this week to highlight the efforts the Agency has undertaken to challenge the price differential misconception.
The Secretary highlighted the findings from a report on the Agency’s Fresh Fruits and Vegetables program. The purpose of the pilot program, created by Congress in an earlier farm bill, is to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among students in the nation’s poorest elementary schools. The report found a 5 percent higher consumption rate of fruits and vegetables among students in the program. The report determined that when children are provided healthy fruits and vegetables as snacks, they were not only willing to try them, but the majority finished them. The report is intended to highlight USDA’s efforts to increase access and empower families to provide healthy foods.
Secretary Vilsack also announced the launch of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Grant Program. This program expands the scope of the existing SNAP education program by providing states with additional flexibility to support targeted nutrition education and obesity prevention activities according to the needs of SNAP recipients and low-income families in their state. Under this new program, states could use the funding for a variety of activities including bringing farmers markets to low income areas, developing policies for addressing food deserts in low-income areas, or educating SNAP retailers on how to stock healthier food options.
The Secretary went on to highlight USDA’s Farm to School Program as well as the Agency’s support for SNAP acceptance at Farmers Markets. Both programs aim to address economic and geographical barriers to healthy food access. NSAC, in coordination with the National Farm to School Network and other partners, pushed for and secured the Farm to School Grant Program as a part of the Child Nutrition Act reauthorization in 2010. USDA launched the program in 2012 and issued $5million in grants to increase the amount of healthy, local food in schools. In its first year, the grants are supporting 68 projects serving nearly 2 million students.
USDA is also making fresh fruits and vegetables more accessible for low-income families through the infrastructure available through the nation’s farmers markets. NSAC developed and was the original champion of the Farmers Market Promotion Program, a USDA program which includes funding for SNAP acceptance at farmers markets. Thanks in part to the program, more than 3,200 farmers markets and farm stands are now authorized to accept payment through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), an increase of nearly 100 percent since 2010.
“Expanding access to nutritious food will not only empower American families to serve healthy meals to their children, but it will also help expand the demand of agricultural products,” said Vilsack. “These efforts will help open new markets for farmers to sell their products, create jobs, and help revitalize distressed communities.”