Local collaborative releases Environmental Justice Report

report cverOver the past few years, Our Kitchen Table has joined with other Grand Rapids area agencies and nonprofits to form the Grand Rapids Environmental Justice Collaborative with the goal of developing a comprehensive report on local EJ issues. Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice‘s Guy Williams provided great direction. You can read the full report here.

The Environmental Justice Collaborative’s report will give the city of Grand Rapids’ officials and leaders a baseline. It will paint a picture of where the city is today as far as environmental inequities impacting its most vulnerable residents, most often people of color. And, it will present a vision for a future — hopefully a near future — that creates a healthier, safer, life-affirming environment for everyone living in  the greater Grand Rapids area.


President’s Budget Proposes Elimination of WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program

Posted from The Farmers’ Market Coalition 

by Ben Feldman, FMC Executive Director |

ProjectFresh_logo_547746_7Earlier this week, the President’s FY 2020 budget was released, proposing significant cuts to USDA programs, including eliminating funding for the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP).

While farmers market programs fare better than in previous presidential budget proposals, eliminating WIC FMNP would undermine years of work to ensure that low income families, particularly women and children, have access to healthy produce from America’s family-owned farms.

Each year, WIC FMNP directly connects over a 1.5 million low income families to 17,000 independent farmers at local farmers markets nationwide. The impact of the program cannot be understated. When WIC FMNP was created in 1992, it was the first program of its kind, and the first time that the WIC program included fresh fruits and vegetables.

Still today, WIC FMNP provides an additional 67 million servings of fruits and vegetables each year to low income, pregnant women and children – healthy produce that they otherwise may not have been able to put on their tables. Scientific research supports this idea, and has shown that WIC FMNP increases access to, and consumption of, produce among WIC families.

For farmers markets and farmers, the program represents meaningful income that helps to keep them in business. Greenmarkets, a New York City based non-profit market operator estimates that the elimination of the WIC FMNP program would force the closure of 13 of their farmers markets, while in Washington state, markets have estimated that 400 jobs would be lost without WIC FMNP.

In short, not only does the program provide more healthy food for our most vulnerable neighbors, it stimulates real economic growth for local farmers and businesses.

While Congress, not the president, actually sets federal spending, the proposal to eliminate WIC FMNP sends a clear message that the best interests of low income families and local farmers are not priorities of the administration.

Within the coming days, FMC will be working with congressional champions to demonstrate support for the program on Capitol Hill. In the meantime please contact your legislators to let them know how the elimination of WIC FMNP would impact your market.

Together, we can stand up for this important program.

Farmers Market SNAP Programs Face Challenges from Gov’t Shutdown, Novo Dia Uncertainties

Posted On: January 16, 2019 By Farmers’ Markets Coalition

by Ben Feldman, FMC Executive Director |

unnamed (2)Since its inception, FMC has prioritized advocating for support for SNAP EBT equipment and administrative funding to increase SNAP access at farmers markets. In 2012, the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) first began offering support using $4 million in funds from the President’s annual budget for the agency. Now, seven years later, a variety of avenues have been pursued and tested, with significant gains made: the share of SNAP dollars spent at farmers markets continues to rise, even as total SNAP dollars spent decreases across the country.

However, farmers markets will not be able to reach their full potential as fresh food access points for our low-income shoppers until markets have long-term access to no-cost, reliable, wireless SNAP processing systems at farmers markets.

July of 2018 highlighted the tenuous situation of equipment access at farmers markets, when one of the major equipment providers, Novo Dia Group, announced that they would be shutting down by the end of that month. Immediately after the announcement in July, FMC set up aninformation center where markets could find updates on the situation and information on alternative equipment options, and launched a mini-grant program to help out markets in dire need.

While temporary relief was found, farmers markets once again face uncertainty with regard to SNAP on a number of fronts. Although provisions were made to extend Novo Dia’s service through February 2019, the company has not provided clarity regarding their future. In responding to FMC’s request for additional information, Novo Dia representatives responded by saying “NDG never stated that a shutdown would occur at the end of February 2019,” and that future updates would be posted on their website.

Additionally, the unprecedented, partial government shutdown has further complicated the SNAP picture for farmers markets in the following ways:

  • Prior to the shutdown, USDA Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) was exploring options for avoiding a disruption in service by Novo Dia, should the company cease operations. Since the beginning of the shutdown, no further planning has occurred and it remains unclear what, if any, options are being pursued by FNS.
  • No new authorizations to accept SNAP are being processed by FNS. Farmers markets seeking authorization to accept SNAP will be forced to wait until the government reopens for there to be any progress on their application.
  • Implementation of the recently passed farm bill has not begun. Under normal circumstances, USDA would be moving quickly to review the final language that was signed into law and begin the implementation process. This includes language directing FNS to ensure markets are able to operate SNAP programs without needing multiple FNS numbers or terminals. Because the shutdown followed almost immediately after the passage of the farm bill, staff were unable to make any progress towards implementation of this or other provisions related to farmers markets.
  • Lastly the federal government is scrambling to ensure funding for SNAP recipients funding, resulting in the need for an early payout of billions of dollars for the month of February. The Trump administration is bankrolling $4.8 billion in benefits to SNAP redeeming outlets by January 20th. For SNAP redeeming farmers markets, this may result in an influx of SNAP dollars in the next two weeks while leaving future funding uncertain once the allocations are spent. FMC encourages markets to notify farmers and vendors accepting SNAP that there may be an increased demand for fresh foods through the program. Equally important is communicating to recipients the early funding implications, as there may be some confusions around the extra benefits received. A list of the dates each state will be releasing February SNAP funds has been compiled by USDA and can be found here.

In the meantime, FMC will continue its work to provide stability for markets offering SNAP. Throughout 2019, FMC will also continue to coordinate with markets, network leaders, elected officials and the USDA to compile and share information, assess the problem, and identify paths of action to help markets avoid a disruption in SNAP services.

Additionally, FMC will step up efforts to support the inclusion of free wireless EBT equipment for markets in state SNAP contracts through collaboration with state partners and policy leaders. We believe that such an approach is needed in order to ensure a long term solution that protects markets from the uncertainty they face today.

Government shutdown to kick SNAP recipients in their empty stomachs

Our Kitchen Table received a copy of this press release from Michigan Department of Social Services this morning. While the president had fun feeding football players fast food in Washington DC, those relying on food assistance to feed their families are expected to simply fast.

The State of Michigan is trying to help SNAP recipients by providing February benefits early.



FMC Analysis: Why the 2018 Farm Bill is Good for Farmers Markets


Farmers and market managers join FMC to visit lawmakers on Capitol Hill to advocate for farmers market programs in the farm bill.

Posted On: December 13, 2018 by Farmers’ Market Coalition

After months of inaction and political maneuvering, Congress has hit the gas on the farm bill, introducing the Farm Bill Conference Report late Monday night, and then holding votes in both the Senate and House on Tuesday and Wednesday.

The report represents the final compromise between the House and Senate versions of the bill, and includes important wins for farmers markets, farmers, and local food. In the end, the report leaned heavily on the Senate’s bill with regard to farmers markets; good news for our industry as the House proposal would have made massive cuts to key programs.

The bill now goes to the President, who is expected to sign it before the end of the week.

This achievement couldn’t have happened without the many calls, emails, and office visits that FMC members made over the last 18 months. This year, FMC engaged with 129 different legislative offices, while many of you met with and hosted your state and local officials at market.

Nine months ago, we were facing the very real prospect of the elimination of FMPP and the significant benefits that it brings our industry, but you stepped up to demonstrate the tremendous impact farmers, market managers, and local food leaders can make when we work together. The results speak for themselves, and we can’t thank you enough for standing shoulder to shoulder with FMC and advocates across the country to fight for the future of our local food systems.

So what are those wins for local food? Let’s take a look:

  • Permanent, baseline funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP), a new program that combines the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program(FMLFPP), and the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) into a comprehensive local food program (see page 408).
    • The Program is to receive $50 million dollars per year (which gets the program to the permanent baseline level and ensures its continuation even if the farm bill expires) with 47% going to FMLFPP grants. While this represents a drop from funding specifically for FMLFPP as compared to the 2014 farm bill, the drop is offset by the security of baseline funding, as well as additional funding in LAMP for related activities.
    • One such example is the Grants to Support Partnerships, designed “to support partnerships to plan and develop a local or regional food system.”
    • FMLFPP applications also now require a 25% match from the applicant.
  • Language directing USDA Food and Nutrition Service to resolve its longstanding “one machine per location” policy, and allow farmers markets “to operate an individual electronic benefit transfer point of sale device at more than 1 location under the same supplemental nutrition assistance program authorization.” FMC members have, for years, expressed concern about the barrier this policy has presented to expanding SNAP access (you can read this language on page 149 of the report).
  • A big increase in funding for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Program, which will also be renamed to honor local food pioneer and former FMC board member, Gus Schumacher.
    • Funding for the program will ramp up from $45 million in 2019, to $56 million in 2023. As with LAMP, this gets the program to permanent, baseline levels so that the program will continue even if the farm bill expires.
    • Evaluation requirements are simplified to eliminate redundant and sometimes burdensome reporting requirements, and increases training, technical support, and information sharing.
    • Includes funding for produce prescription grants through a seperate application process.
  • Continued funding for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
  • The bill also contains what is known as “report language” that directs USDA “to take appropriate action to ensure that EBT service is not disrupted and SNAP customers maintain the ability to use their benefits at farmers markets.” While report language doesn’t carry the force of law, it still is an important signal to USDA that Congress is aware and keeping track of this issue, particularly given the ongoing questions surrounding the shutdown of Novo Dia, one of the largest wireless SNAP processors for farmers markets.

What Happens Next?

Once the bill is signed by the President, implementation of the various provisions of the bill will begin to be put into effect. This happens as the agencies tasked with each provision create regulations through the process of “rulemaking”. How rapidly the farmers market provisions listed above are implemented depends on a number of factors. Programs with only minor changes, like FMLFPP and VAPG, typically don’t require rulemaking and will likely only need small changes to the Request for Proposals. This would put them on track for a similar timetable of previous years.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, USDA Food and Nutrition Service could take some time to implement changes to the “one machine per location” policy. Given that there is no written guidance on the policy, the agencies’ previous concern about altering the policy, and its generally wary approach, it is likely that the changes will go through a rulemaking process, and may not be implemented quickly.

Stay Engaged!

Of course, FMC will continue to keep you all updated on implementation developments as they happen. Politics is always moving and changing and we must stay engaged and vigilant. Stay in touch with your members of Congress. Stay connected to the issues. Donate to FMC’s advocacy efforts. Get out to market each week and support family farmers. These ways and others are how we can transform our local food systems together.

In the meantime, take a moment to celebrate this victory for local food and farmers markets – you deserve it!

Weigh in on Urban Ag at the Southeast Area Farmers’ Market Saturday

grSoutheast Area Farmer’s Market
11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday Oct. 27
MLK Jr. Park, 900 Fuller Ave. SE

Bridge Cards, Double Up Food Bucks and WIC Welcome!

The City of Grand Rapids Urban Agriculture Committee wants to know your thoughts about urban agriculture. Come to the market Saturday and let them know what you think. OKT’s executive director, Lisa Oliver-King is on the committee. Some questions that she and Our Kitchen Table is asking include:

  • Should zoning ordinances be changed to support urban farms? If they are, who should operate them? City residents and small, local farmers, or high-powered agricultural industrialists looking for investment opportunities?
  • Who should eat the food? Neighborhood residents with little access to healthy whole foods or the clientele of high-end restaurants?
  • How will urban ag projects will impact the neighborhoods where they operate? Will they support the existing residential community or hasten gentrification and higher housing costs?

“School gardens, urban farms, [and] composting and educational initiatives have tremendous potential for shaping a city’s fabric,” says Levi Gardner, Urban Ag committee chair. “Through this community engagement process, we hope to better understand how these initiatives and many others like them fit into our growing city. While we are benchmarking against other cities in this process; we are welcoming Grand Rapids residents to voice their ideas, questions, and concerns about this work.”