Using Community Gardens to Grow Low-income Communities Out of Food Deserts
Since 1973, food stamps (now known as SNAP) have allowed for the purchase of food-producing plants and seeds. However, very few people know that the choice exists when deciding how to spend SNAP benefits.
Food Stamps Grow Gardens
By Emily Apple
New Deal 2.0
Apr 4, 2012
Emily is a sophomore at CUNY-Hunter College and the Northeast Policy Coordinator for the Roosevelt Institute/Campus Network.
Daniel Bowman Simon, who helped spearhead the White House vegetable garden, has now has moved on to helping low-income individuals and families access healthy foods through his organization SNAP Gardens. As of March 2012, over 46 million Americans were enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), often referred to as food stamps. Simon encourages SNAP beneficiaries to “grow” their benefits by utilizing a 1973 amendment to the Food Stamp Act that allows food stamp recipients to use their benefits to buy seeds.
Simon’s SNAP Gardens model is a great way to incorporate food stamps into the conversation on food accessibility. In New York City alone there are more than 1.8 million SNAP beneficiaries. However, many New Yorkers do not have the time to plant and care for their own food. Community gardens provide the space and infrastructure for growing food. All that is needed is someone to grow it. Most community gardens already have volunteers and staff, so it would just take a transition out of growing plants and into agriculture to grow food. There are over 500 community gardens across all five boroughs. Converting at least some to agricultural gardens would greatly expand access to fresh, locally grown produce for thousands of New Yorkers.
To accommodate SNAP beneficiaries, each community garden should be given a credit card machine with the capability to accept Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards. EBT machines are given to eligible retailers free of charge by the state. This would essentially convert the SNAP Garden model from using benefits to buy the seeds to using them to buy the actual produce from gardens.