A 2022 study estimated that 31 percent of Rhode Island households were unable to afford enough food to feed their families, resulting in a growing number of residents utilizing charitable food pantries and meal sites across the state.
In an effort to make fresh produce and local ingredients easier to access and afford, U.S. Senator Jack Reed today delivered a new $812,000 federal earmark to support Farm Fresh Rhode Island’s new initiative to streamline systems accepting Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food-assistance benefits at local farmers markets and increase capacity for pantries to access locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables across the Ocean State.
Farm Fresh will utilize this federal earmark secured by Senator Reed to purchase equipment, supplies, and technology necessary for 100 farms and 15 farmers markets across Rhode Island to accept SNAP as well as Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) benefits, expanding access to nutritious, delicious, locally-grown food, while also helping farmers access a new market.
Nearly 13 percent of Rhode Islanders – about 139,000 residents – currently receive benefits through SNAP. SNAP is a federally-funded program that helps supplement food budgets for individuals and families in need.
This new federal funding will also help Farm Fresh to expand its work connecting locally grown, caught, and produced food to people in need through its Hope’s Harvest Program by supporting staff, equipment, and technology resources needed to provide technical support for farmers seeking a new market for their excess of b-grade produce in the hunger relief system. The Hope’s Harvest Program collects unharvested fruits and vegetables that would otherwise go to waste and distributes them to a network of food pantries and non-profits that help feed the poor.
“Farm Fresh Rhode Island has a proven track record of sustainably growing Rhode Island’s local food system and is continuing that work by helping to connect vulnerable Rhode Islanders with fresh, locally grown, caught and produced food. By integrating a new digital infrastructure and technological capabilities into Farm Fresh’s network of farmers markets and farms across Rhode Island, this federal earmark will ensure that Rhode Islanders using programs like SNAP and WIC can easily access and buy nutritious local food, while simultaneously expanding access to new markets for Rhode Island producers,” said Senator Reed.
“Since 2009 Farm Fresh Rhode Island has been committed to expanding healthy local food access for all Rhode Islanders, including those utilizing federal food assistance and emergency food programs. These programs are a win-win for Rhode Island farmers and eaters; strengthening our local food economy while also increasing healthy food access. Being able to streamline technologies and subsidize farmer payments for these two important programs through this funding will help us continue to build a stronger, more resilient local food system that supports all Rhode Islanders in need.”
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which oversees SNAP technology, is only beginning to scratch the surface when it comes to mobile payment solutions at farmers markets. Farm Fresh Rhode Island is helping to lead the way modernizing and expanding their incentive system. These streamlined payment options will expand markets for local farmers and food producers in Rhode Island to increase their sales while providing fresh, healthy, nutritious and affordable food options to local residents in need.
During today’s earmark celebration, Senator Reed also highlighted the work of Edith Paye and her daughter Nell, who came to Rhode Island from Liberia in the 1990s. With the help of the Southside Community Land Trust, the Payes lead the Asikya project, which facilitates the farming of traditional West African crops to help feed hundreds of local families with some of their favorite foods. The Payes and Farm Fresh are partnering through the Asikya project to supply seniors in need with produce boxes and fresh, locally grown food items for families and children.
“This funding will help to make sure that people that are most in need will have food that they can eat. A lot of our seniors are receiving fresh fruits and fresh vegetables but they aren’t always eating it because it is not what they eat, it is not what they are used to and often, they aren’t sure how to prepare it,” said Nell Paye of Askiya. “This funding will help to make sure they can access foods that they know and are comfortable with.”
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