BLUE ZONES: FoodShare at farmer’s markets

September 17, 2018

Nine million, six hundred forty-four thousand, twenty-five dollars.

Eleven thousand, four hundred ninety-seven people.

The first number represents the three-year average annual FoodShare benefits disbursement for 2015-2017 – in Dodge County alone. The second number represents the total number of Dodge County FoodShare recipients in 2017, or about one in seven people. Chances are strong that you know someone, perhaps several acquaintances, friends and family members who qualify for FoodShare.

What is FoodShare? The agency is Wisconsin’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and according to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, it was created to “help stop hunger and to improve nutrition and health. FoodShare helps people with limited money buy the food they need for good health.” When considering food sources that directly contribute to good health, few would argue that produce ranks right at or near the top of the list. Thankfully, most larger grocery retailers in the area have applied for and received permission to accept FoodShare benefits, and several area food pantries make a concerted effort to source and provide produce to those in need, but what about the farmer’s markets in Dodge County?

The benefits of a thriving local farmers market are extensive. It serves as a social gathering place for community members, creating a sense of “belonging” that has been proven to enhance individual well-being. It serves as an educational opportunity for children who want to learn where their food comes from, or for those who might be inclined to try something new on a smaller scale before committing to a larger purchase. It provides fruits and vegetables that are picked at the absolute peak of ripeness, offering flavor and health-enhancing nutritional value that is second-to-none. It also embodies the popular notion to “shop small” or “buy local,” encouraging the reinvestment of expenditures back into the local food system and local economy.

Due to the application process and organizational structure required to accept FoodShare benefits, local farmers markets in Beaver Dam, Horicon, Juneau, and Mayville are not yet able to serve this demographic, which would begin to redirect more of the $9.64 million pool back into our local food system. As part of the core Power 9 principles derived from the places in the world where people live the longest, healthiest lives, Blue Zones Project Dodge County promotes eating wisely and belonging as proven vehicles to improving community well-being. The more opportunities that exist for all residents to access fresh produce, the better. If the local food system and economy simultaneously benefit from these opportunities, then it becomes a winning proposition across the board.

Over the past year, Blue Zones Project Dodge County’s Food Environment Committee has researched basic requirements and FoodShare-friendly farmer’s markets in Wisconsin with hopes of bringing this service to a farmers market near you. Several experts in the field have committed their expertise and support toward making this a reality. The opportunity to better serve 11,497 Dodge county residents is well worth the effort.

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