SNAP At Mt. Hope Farm

Every Saturday at Mt. Hope Farmers Market patrons come to buy fresh meat and produce. It is also one of 24 farmers markets in Rhode Island that accept SNAP dollars, the equivalent of food stamps, so that people’s budgets don’t keep them from eating healthy and local.

SNAP stands for the supplemental nutrition assistance program. It was adapted from food stamps to promote healthier alternatives.

Cassie Tharinger brought the program to the Mt. Hope farmers market four years ago when she became market manager.

“That was a main goal of mine to have SNAP accepted at the market,” Tharinger said. “There is a system where customer come and swipe either there EBT card and we give them little coins that they then use at the market vendors.”

Kelli Roberts, from Roots Farm in Tiverton, likes the idea of bringing snap users to her produce stand.

“It allows access to people that otherwise might not be able to afford fresh veggies,” Roberts said. “Sometimes processed food is cheaper, unfortunately.”

With SNAP, a larger variety of customers have access to products beyond supermarket shelves. Event staff member Taylor Guenard recognizes the value of shopping at the market.

“At Stop N’ Shop you just get big aisles of packaged foods,” Guenard said. “Here you can be with a community and the food is so much better.”

This season the market promotes SNAP bonus bucks; where with every five dollars spent at the stands, users take home an extra two dollars worth of free produce, but, are these bonus bucks enough to make farmers markets affordable?

“There are a couple barriers that prevent people from spending their SNAP benefits here,” Tharinger said. “One is that somethings can be expensive at a farmers market.”

Guenard however, believes the higher prices pale in comparison to the higher quality.

“I will admit that you do pay more here than you do at a Stop N’ Shop,” Guenard said. “Its about the quality that you are getting and you feel much better about supporting these businesses.”

While eating fresh often comes at a high price, farmer markets like Mt. Hope, aim to keep their doors open to all so that everyone has a chance to eat well.

A Fresh Option For SNAP Users

Mount Hope Farm resides in Bristol, Rhode Island. (Photo courtesy of Wikimedia)

Bristol__ For many people in The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the options for selection don’t often stray from the traditional food bank, but there are some more ‘fresh’ options available.

Mt. Hope Farm is host to one of 46 farmers’ markets in Rhode Island and one of half of those venues that accepts SNAP cards.

Every Saturday from 9am-1pm customers have an opportunity to delve into a collection of fresh local products ranging from homemade jams to meats and cheeses. SNAP users can use their cards to receive “fresh buck tokens” that can be spent at the vendors around the market.

Perhaps the best part of the location is the trails and scenery to explore around the farm. SNAP users that show up for the food have an opportunity to walk and get exercise as well and after an especially long winter that can be a really good thing.

For people looking for a fresh change, farmers markets across the state like Mt. Hope could be a good option.

SNAP Users Can ‘Eat Fresh’?

Five subway locations are now accepting SNAP cards around Providence. (Photo courtesy WIkimedia)

The Snap Card has achieved wide success since it began replacing food stamps in 2004. The idea was that it would allow for a much more efficient and beneficial system for users of the service as well as the merchants who accepted them. However, a long debate has waged over what can be obtained with them and where.

Fast food chains are an example of business that people generally haven’t wanted federal dollars invested in poor communities to go to. The idea was that they would have access to healthy essentials and to most a McDonalds meal doesn’t qualify that.

That changed in Rhode Island when five subways in Providence and Cranston were authorized to accept the cards as part of the Restaurant Meals Program, which aims to aid those who may not be able to prepare their own meals.

The trend of Fast Food restaurants getting into the mix is one that has been growing recently. In Other states McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Burger King and others have been authorized as well.

USA Today reports that between 2005 and 2010 the number of businesses that accepted the card grew by about a third. That’s about 50,000. As of 2011, the fast food chains have started to get into the mix. At that point ABC reported 20 of such fast food restaurants existed in the country. Add five more to the list with these Subways.

While all vendors that accept the federal payment form must be approved by the USDA, it remains a controversial issue even if it does allow for some without the means to cook to get a meal. For most it defeats the purpose.

Double Check: Is Breakfast Really That Important?

Before moving on from breakfast, lets take one last look.

At Claiborne Pell Elementary the importance of breakfast is quite clear to everyone, but what exactly makes it so special and why can’t people just wait until lunch? Where is the science?

These days, the importance of breakfast is actually debated. Anahad O’Connor of the New York Times wrote in a wellness column in 2011 that a lot of the “science” surrounding breakfasts essentialness was actually myth.

The article sights several studies that conclude that breakfast is of no significant benefit to those who partake in it. To be clear, the studies also don’t claim that it is bad for you either. Essentially O’Connor argues that you can live without it.

A couple of years later, another article in the Times appeared from Gretchen Reynolds illustrating similar points. An article in The Atlantic by James Hamblin backs this up and more.

The comments made from these well established institutions of journalism directly undermine the comments made by health officials and those who administer the breakfast and lunch program at Pell Elementary.

Hamblin argues that not a lot is known at all about adolescents and the relationship between eating breakfast and their learning capacity. He refers to the idea that it improves focus and ability as lore.

Voices seem to be stacking up against the notion that it is important, but, as Hamblin writes, there is still a lot more research to be done.

The Most Important Meal Of The Day

At Claiborne Pell Elementary school, keeping kids healthy is as important as feeding their minds.

Opened in 2013, it is the only elementary school in Newport and hosts 890 students grades K-4. However, 62% of its enrollment is under the poverty rate.

To help relieve some of the trouble at home, Pell offers a breakfast program that feeds students thanks to funding from the federal government.

Samantha Brinz is the director of quality initiatives for the newport family and child opportunity zone at pell elementary, and oversees the various programs the school offers.

She explains that the program is made possible through the child and adult feeding program, administered by the R.I. Department of Education and a partnership with the Rhode Island Food Bank.

Scott Gleason, lead chef for Chartwells school dining services works to provide kids with options for a healthy and balanced breakfast.

“They always get a choice of a hot meal or a healthy cereal,” said Gleason.

He explains that the menu is planned and created with the input of wellness committees in Newport and says that it is very important to the school that the kids have eaten well.

“We get a lot of kids who get sent down, even if they arrive late to school, to get breakfast,” He said. “They want their mind to be on learning not on being hungry.”

Student teacher Sarah Delsanto notices a difference in the performance of her 3rd grade class when they start their day full.

“For my students, on Mondays and Fridays, they don’t eat until 12:45 and that’s a long morning for them to not eat anything,” Delsanto said. “The breakfast program ensures that they are going to have something to get them through the rest of the day.”

Brinz even suggests that the program helps with even larger issues.

“When we have the breakfast here on site, it just makes sure that everyone gets here in a timely fashion and that helps our truancy initiative,” Brinz said. “We wanna make sure that our children are here every day so that they can learn and having a healthy breakfast is a huge part of that.”

With poverty in Newport still an issue, Delsanto recognizes that something as small as breakfast can make a big difference.

“It’s the fourth highest poverty rate in Rhode Island actually, which is surprising to a lot of people,” Delsanto said. “These kids need support and there is not a lot of it in the environment that they come from.”

Food For Thought

Stock photo courtesy Wikimedia.

At Wellness On Welfare we pursue different topics week to week. Our recent mini-issue explored the idea of breakfast programs for kids. We found a school that operates the program that faculty and students at Roger Williams University deemed so important.

We will be stepping inside the walls of Claiborne Pell Elementary in Newport where many children come to school hungry and yet are full by the first class. We will be talking with administrators, volunteers and cafeteria workers to bring you the story about how all of this goes down, so check back soon.

Snap On The Map (East Bay)

There are many places around R.I. that accept a SNAP card.

The card, which carries the acronym Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is equivalent to food stamps and holds a balance for it’s users who can swipe them at counters like any other credit/debit card.

This map illustrates not only the numerous locations open to SNAP users, but also the variety of what those places are from small businesses to supermarkets.