The following is a letter to the editor, published here as opinion. The opinions expressed in this letter are those of the writer. If you would like to submit a letter to the editor feel free to write to [email protected].
Some of you might have recently read an article in The Mendocino Voice by Ben Wolff from Soul Shaker Acres Farm imploring any Second District Candidates to put their money where their mouth is and donate the raise that the Supervisors gave themselves to the Farmers Market EBT Match. In 2017 the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors gave themselves a raise from $61,200 to $85,500 at a time when County employees still hadn’t been made whole from the cuts they took after the recession in 2008. This was controversial to say the least. When I announced that I was running for Supervisor in 2019 I made it very clear that I would donate a portion of my salary each month to a variety of local non-profits. I’ve been making a list and gathering “fund a need” ideas for two years. I am certainly ready to put my money where my mouth is.
For those of you that don’t know the Farmers Market EBT Match is a program that allows for local recipients of Calfresh benefits to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from local farmers with a match from the community and Federal grants to double their money and also buy plant starts to grow their own food. The Market Match is an incentive to have CalFresh users spend their money at the Farmers Market instead of the grocery store but I’d like to take that a step further and normalize shopping at the Farmers Market for everyone in our community. If we had 100% participation in CalFresh we would have an additional $6.2 million dollars in Federal funds injected in to our community.
One “bad month” can be enough to plunge a household into food insecurity. Lay-offs at work, unexpected car maintenance or an accident on the job can suddenly force a family to choose between buying food and paying bills. Working families across America face countless situations that can result in food insecurity and hunger.
Food insecurity can have a wide impact, depending on each individual’s circumstances. Some of the most common, yet complex, effects of food insecurity include:
- serious health complications, especially when people facing hunger are forced to choose between spending money on food and medicine or medical care;
- damage to a child’s ability to learn and grow; and
- difficult decisions for seniors — often living on fixed incomes — such as choosing between paying for food and critical healthcare.
During the Pandemic the Market Match CalFresh program has seen a substantial increase, close to 90%. This may be because many in the community are now receiving CalFresh benefits due to the extra funds that were given to families with school age children because of the Shelter in Place. Families have realized that they then could use the EBT at the Farmers Market to receive double the benefits. About 12,419 community members in Mendocino County were registered to receive CalFresh as of September 2020, that’s about a 6th of our entire County population. Of the folks in our community that are receiving these benefit about 12% are seniors over the age of 60 and there are 4,315 children under the age of 18 who’s parents receive benefits on their behalf.
The Farmers Market not only could help support these community members receiving CalFresh benefits but the farmers that grow our local food AND help protect the environment by keeping our food sources local. I personally love the Ukiah Farmers Market as well as the Redwood Valley Market during the summer (because its on Sunday’s, I can get to it more often.) When I go to the UFM I see many familiar faces and I would love for more people in our community to feel the energy, see smiling faces and enjoy local food. Farmers Markets build community in a way that no corporate grocery store can.
My “fund a need” plan for the Farmers Market with permission from the Market Managers would be to fund 5,000 new wooded nickels that would allow people to swipe a credit or debit card and be able to shop with wooden tokens. I believe this would help destigmatize the use of wooden tokens from those that receive EBT or Market Match tokens and increase the amount of money spent at the Farmers Market for those that don’t carry cash or are short on cash for additional purchases. The “CalFresh Match” tokens are paid for out of the grant but its my understanding that there are not funds for the “CalFresh” tokens so with permission from the Market Managers I would order those as well. Part of the Federal grant funds are tied to the number of volunteers that spend time helping at the Market and I can help use social media and email marketing to encourage people to volunteer, as well as volunteer myself! The CalFresh Market Match has not been advertised (anywhere that I could see) since 2017. I would love to help create a marketing campaign to encourage users of CalFresh to attend the Farmers Market and pay for a portion of the advertising for Market Match Fundraising events like Ben’s Pig Roast (I’ll volunteer to help at that too). I understand that its challenging to get the info out about the CalFresh Match to recipients through traditional processes but I think with the use of Social Media, Google Ads and good old fashioned flyers we could reach more of the community and increase the customers at the Market. I’d like to work with MTA to figure out how we can get more Seniors closer to the market on Saturday mornings so they can enjoy the community and get fresh fruits and vegetables. I’d also like to work on shopping, gardening and cooking demos, perhaps recipe cards so that more community members can see how to stretch their food dollar farther and help local farmers. I will certainly donate and support at the local fundraisers as well. As always I am open to more suggestions.
There are so many important organizations in our community and I hope that the strategy of “fund a need” type support to local non-profits will help create sustainability for these important organizations. It is my goal to support three organizations per month so please write me at [email protected] with your ideas.