Rooted in DC

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This Saturday, February 2nd, the Garden Cycles will presenting out trailer and sharing a bit about our film at the first Rooted in DC forum that takes place at the Josephine Butler Parks Center from 9am-1pm with refreshments. More importantly than our film is the opportunity to see what is involved with becoming more a part of the DC urban garden scene and the effort of this forum is to build more networks and relationships.  As we saw on our own bike tour,  the most flourishing cities with urban fresh food, were the ones that had the strongest alliances and networks to support each other. Come support DC gardens and our film!!!  If the mere joy of building community and cultivating one’s own food wasn’t enough, then the current protests occurring in Mexico city in response to U.S. subsidized crop exports, should be motivation to stop supporting a food system that affects so many other people’s lives. I wish folks who had strong stances on immigration issues would be well versed in trade policies especially ones like NAFTA that affect our Latin American neighbors. Please read this article to get more informed: -Larita 

Farmers clog Mexico City in corn tariff protest – http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5hDUCfa3JCjUuDZcRUdkTGGP3dRvg

Below is some information from this month’s Foodlinks America journal. There is important information on what is going on with our food policy and what is shifting with food inflation and the dietary habits as well as access among those in most need. Please read and distribute widely….

 

Stimulus Proposals Stimulate Much Discussion

As the U.S. economy continues its slide toward recession, Washington is abuzz with proposals to halt the fall. The most prominent economic stimulus package offered so far is an agreement reached on January 24 between the Bush Administration and leaders of the House of Representatives for a one-time income tax rebate of $600 apiece for most individual taxpayers. The House passed the proposal by a large margin on January 29.

What that deal fails to do, however, is help the poorest Americans – those who, because of low wages and limited income, pay no taxes. House Democrats, in their bipartisan rush to accommodate the Administration, bowed to the President’s insistence that the relief package include neither an extension of unemployment benefits nor an increase in food stamp allotments.

In spite of concurrence between the White House and the lower chamber of Congress, however, the stimulus plan is far from a done deal. Senators from both parties have different ideas on what is needed to cure the country’s economic ills. Senate Democrats criticized the accord as they began drafting their own outline that will likely include tax breaks for business as well as more generous unemployment and food stamp benefits.

Senate Republicans also chimed in. “I was very pleased with the progress the House made in working out the agreement,” said Senator Susan Collins (R-ME), “but the Senate is a separate entity, and the White House needs to engage in negotiations with the Senate as well.” Collins’ call for unemployment extensions and higher food stamp allocations was immediately echoed by her Republican colleagues Gordon Smith of Oregon and Olympia Snowe of Maine. Collins and a bipartisan coalition of Northeastern and Midwestern Senators also plan to call for increased heating assistance for the poor as part of the stimulus effort.

Meanwhile, anti-hunger advocates likewise urged food stamp and emergency food increases as quick and effective ways not only to boost the economy but to meet the needs of hungry Americans. “Enacting a temporary raise in food stamp allotments would strengthen the package, get money out quickly to be spent in local grocery stores across the country, and generate in local communities nearly twice as much economic activity as the investment would cost,” observed Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center in Washington, D.C.

Putting more resources quickly into the hands of the people most likely to quickly turn around and spend it can both boost the economy and cushion the hardships on the most vulnerable people who face a constant struggle against hunger, rising energy and food costs, housing problems, and other hardships,” said Vicki Escarra, president of America’s Second Harvest, the national food bank network.

“Food banks are challenged to meet this increased need for food assistance [and] … this challenge is amplified by delays in the enactment of a Farm Bill that would increase TEFAP (The Emergency Food Assistance Program) funding and by the expiration at the end of 2007 of the food donation provision allowing all business taxpayers to take an enhanced deduction for contributions of food inventory,” Escara added.

She called for emergency short-term funding of $100 million for TEFAP “in advance of passage of the Farm Bill” to help stimulate local farm economies, along with “temporary increases in food stamp benefits.”

Other analysts agreed that helping the poor would deliver the fastest and most efficient pay-off. Increases in food stamps and unemployment benefits would have more immediate economic impacts than tax rebates, Peter Orszag, director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office, testified at a Senate hearing on January 24. “Food stamp and unemployment benefits can affect spending in two months,” said Orszag. “Rebates would affect spending at the end of 2008.”

WIC Watch

Funding fix: Last year’s omnibus appropriations bill gave the WIC Program an additional $815.6 million to help the program maintain national caseload and avoid program cuts in 2008. However, continued food price inflation and growing caseload demands are forcing states to economize in other ways, according to an article in the December 16, 2007 Congressional Quarterly.

Utah is requiring families to buy beans instead of peanut butter, limiting participants to one pound of cheese per month, and cutting back on frozen juices. Connecticut is reducing administrative staff. And Montana is restricting the amount of milk and eggs some WIC participants are getting and may soon disallow purchases of organic foods.

The financial squeeze on the program had used up most of a contingency fund Congress set up for such emergencies, but it was replenished in the final appropriations bill. WIC was also exempted from an across-the-board rescission on discretionary programs and ended up with a fiscal year 2008 funding total of $6.02 billion, an amount that should forestall caseload reductions for the remainder of the fiscal year.

Nonetheless, getting enough money for WIC on an ongoing basis is a constant challenge. “It’s fair to say [the WIC spending shortfall] is a moving target,” commented Zoe Neuberger of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington , D.C. “We do the best we can and Congress does the best they can, but there’s always the risk that something will change.”

Caseload demographics profiled: An informative snapshot of WIC participation was recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in its biennial WIC Participant and Program Characteristics 2006 Summary. The survey of nearly 8.7 million WIC participants found that approximately half (49 percent) are children, 26 percent are infants, and 25 percent are women, percentages that have been relatively unchanged for the past decade.

By ethnic group, 55.3 percent of participants are white, 19.6 percent are African American, 15.3 percent are American Indian/Alaska Native, and 3.7 percent are Asian or Pacific Islanders. Among all races, 41.2 percent were categorized as Hispanic. For additional details, see: http://www.fns.usda.gov/oane/MENU/Published/WIC/FILES/PC2006Summary.pdf.

Farmer’s market subsidy increases fruit and vegetable consumption the most: WIC participants given vouchers to buy produce ate more fruits and vegetables when they shopped at farmers’ markets than at supermarkets. A year-long study of more than 600 WIC mothers in Los Angeles found that women shopping at farmers’ markets ate an additional 1.4 servings of produce per 1,000 kilocalories, while those shopping at supermarkets gained only 0.8 more servings, according to results of a study published in the January 2008 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

Moreover, the effect was long-lasting. “Intervention participants increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables and sustained the increase six months after the intervention was terminated,” noted researchers. WIC participants said they found fresher, higher quality produce at farmers’ markets and enjoyed the community experience and the opportunity to interact directly with growers. To learn more, go to: http://www.ajph.org/cgi/content/abstract/98/1/98.

Food Stamp Facts

Caseload climbing: The nation’s economic troubles are almost always reflected in food stamp participation data. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) just released caseload statistics for October 2007 which revealed that nationwide food stamp participation topped 27 million people for the first time in nearly two years. The 27,177,802 people receiving food stamps last October was 248,306 higher than the previous month and 892,378 more than in October of 2006.

Program costs growing: The overall cost of the Food Stamp Program (FSP) is now predicted to increase more than 10 percent this year, primarily due to the rising cost of food, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office reported on January 23, 2008. Total program costs will probably exceed $38 billion in fiscal year 2008 and will likely reach $41 billion in fiscal year 2009. In addition to food price inflation, caseload increases, not the generosity of benefits, which remain at about one dollar per person per meal, are the driving force behind increased expenditures.

The impact of welfare policies on food stamps detailed: For a number of low-income households, participation in the Food Stamp Program is determined not only by national eligibility guidelines, but also by the interaction of state welfare policies under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. An updated report from USDA, Effect of State Food Stamp and TANF Policies on Food Stamp Program Participation, released in January 2008, sheds more light on this subject.

The report’s findings show strong evidence that some FSP policy reforms made after 1999 (such as more lenient vehicle-exemption policies, longer recertification periods, and expanded categorical eligibility) increased food stamp participation. However, the use of biometric technology, such as fingerprinting, lowered participation. The study shows less consistent evidence that more lenient immigrant eligibility rules, simplified reporting, Electronic Benefit Transfers, or outreach spending raised food stamp participation. For more details, go to: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/CCR36/.

Military income exclusion extended: Since 2005, additional pay received by military personnel as a result of deployment in a combat zone has been exempted from consideration as income in the FSP. The Fiscal Year 2008 Consolidated Appropriations Act, passed in December 2007, extended that provision for another year to help feed the families of low-income service members who are fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Grocery Initiative Bears Fruit in Pennsylvania

Visionary legislation passed four years ago has begun greening some of Pennsylvania ’s food deserts. Making the connection between the lack of grocery stores and public health, the legislature enacted a $20 million Fresh Food Financing Initiative (FFFI) in 2004 to increase the number of supermarkets and groceries in underserved communities.

“The money, to be honest with you, was the easy part,” said state Representative Dwight Evans of Philadelphia , chair of the Appropriations Committee. “The toughest part is to make it work.” Creating successful supermarkets or even smaller groceries in poor urban neighborhoods can be daunting. Simply acquiring the land for a supermarket-size lot in a city can take years. Environmental remediation of the plot may also be necessary. And before a grocery can open for business, it must address worker training needs, security concerns, health permits, and a host of other issues.

But there has been progress under the FFFI. Grants and loans to construct or remodel 32 stores across the state have been made, providing 900,000 square feet of retail space and over 2,600 jobs. Nearly $26 million in state funds have been distributed, seed money that has attracted a total of more than $146 million in other public and private resources.

The FFFI is overseen by a partnership of three non-profit organizations. The Food Trust conducts outreach to promote the Initiative and helps communities with applications. The Reinvestment Fund is the key financial player, screening applicants, offering pre-development grants and loans, securing money from banks, and providing technical assistance. The Greater Philadelphia Urban Affairs Coalition focuses on workforce and diversity issues by enhancing contracting opportunities for disadvantaged, minority, and women-owned businesses. Though all three groups are Philadelphia-based, they work statewide on the FFFI.

After four years, there are now a number of examples of successful FFFI investment throughout Pennsylvania . In Allentown , a city of approximately 100,000 in southeast Pennsylvania , a new 50,000 square foot Food 4 Less has opened along a commercial corridor. The store, operated by the Fernandez brothers, caters to the city’s Hispanic population, bringing fresh and affordable food to a previously untapped market.

People in the small community of Williamsburg (population 1,300), in the south central part of the state, can now shop at the 7,000 square foot Hometown Market, the only full-service grocery in town. The store, built with more than $500,000 in loans and grants from the FFFI, has not only provided access to fresh produce and meats, but brought more than 25 jobs into the community.

In Philadelphia , the FFFI has supported a variety of projects both small and large. Ha Ha’s Market, a 900 square foot store in the Logan section of the city, was remodeled and expanded with FFFI assistance. The store’s air conditioning unit was repaired, a new ice machine was purchased, and refrigeration equipment upgraded to help the Korean family grocery offer more fresh produce, seafood, and spices. Sales have tripled since the improvements were made.

Renovation of a 57,000 square foot ShopRite store on Island Avenue in the poor, industrial Eastwick section of Philadelphia has provided a community meeting room, shelf space for prepared foods made by local entrepreneurs, 258 quality jobs with benefits, and happy shoppers, like ShopRite customer Larry Lawrence, a 57-year-old neighborhood resident who works as a counselor for troubled youth. “I’m glad they moved in,” said Lawrence . “There are two or three guys, all day long, putting out fresh fruit,” he noted. “It is like I am being drawn by the peaches and the plums and the bananas.”

For additional information on the FFFI, go to: http://www.activelivingleadership.org/uploads/PDFs/article_FFFI_Jul2005.pdf.

Summer Food Rates for 2008 Issued

Updated reimbursement rates for meals served in the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) were published by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in the January 30, 2008 Federal Register. The annual adjustments reflect a 4.1 increase over last year due to food price inflation. Depending on the location and type of food service operation, SFSP sponsors may now earn as much as $3.0375 per lunch or supper served, $1.7275 for each breakfast, and 71.75 cents for each snack. For details, go to: http://a257.g.akamaitech.net/7/257/2422/01jan20081800/edocket.access.gpo.gov/2008/pdf/E8-1656.pdf.

Healthy Diets Out of Reach for Many

Eating a healthy diet is getting so expensive that many American families cannot afford it. Not only are fruits and vegetables costly, but food price inflation is reducing the ability of low- and middle-income households to get the nutrients they need. Recent research confirms these findings.

A University of Washington study, conducted over a two-year period in the Seattle area, found that good, healthy foods increased in price by almost 20 percent, four times the rate of overall food inflation. Meanwhile, less healthy, high calorie foods held steady in price or actually dropped.

“We were shocked,” said Adam Drewnowsky, director of the University’s Center for Public Health Nutrition and co-author of the study, The Rising Cost of Low-Energy-Density Foods, published in the December 2007 issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association. “The nutrient-rich calories, the food we should be eating are zooming out of sight,” he stated. “So eating well is becoming unaffordable for many, even in the middle class.”

As healthy foods get more expansive, unhealthy foods stay cheap. “When it comes to empty calories, it’s very difficult to compete with sugar,” noted Drewnowsky. In Brazil , for example, sugar made locally from sugar cane “is produced at the cost of 30,000 calories for one dollar. Nothing else comes close.”

The academic findings were recently confirmed by a federal study. Are Lower Income Households Willing and Able to Budget for Fruits and Vegetables? is the title of a January 2008 report issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). It is not surprising that households with income near or under the poverty line spend less money on food than higher income households. But even when they experience a small increase in income, such households will allocate more money to only two of seven product categories – beef and frozen prepared foods. For low-income households to prioritize fruits and vegetables, a household’s income must increase more substantially.

So, how can low- and middle-income families achieve a healthful diet? “It takes three things,” explained Drewnowsky. “Education, money, and time. If you have all three, you’re home free. If you have two out of three, you can manage. But if you only have one out of the three, or zero out of the three, you are pretty much screwed. And a lot of low-income people have zero out of three.”

For additional information, see the USDA report at: http://www.ers.usda.gov/Publications/ERR54/. The University of Washington study is on the web at: http://www.mdconsult.com/das/article/body/86804079-2/jorg=journal&source=&sp=20186529&sid=0/N/619891/If07018007003.fig

Small Bites

Countless calories: America ’s daily food supply contains enough calories to feed almost double the U.S. population, excluding exports.

Cheap and empty calories: A dollar spent in the grocery store can buy 1,200 calories of potato chips or cookies, 875 calories of soda, 260 calories of carrots, or 170 calories of fruit juice.

Sweet and empty calories: Americans consume an estimated 158 pounds of added sugar annually, including cane and beet sugar, high fructose corn syrup, glucose, honey, and maple syrup.

Bug buffet: There are 1,462 recorded species of edible insects in the world.

Disappearing diversity: An estimated 7,000 plant species have been used by human societies throughout history. Today, a mere 20 species provide 90 percent of the world’s food.

Vanishing radishes: Of the 463 varieties of radishes known to exist in the early 20th century, 436 are extinct.

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