While this sounds downright strange, the sale of cigarettes is giving some California residents access to healthy fruits and vegetables.
Thanks to a new $2.5 million grant from First 5 L.A. (a nonprofit funded through California taxes on tobacco products), thousands of low-income families in Los Angeles are going to be crunching into healthy farmer’s market goods.
The sizable grant was given to Market Match, a program that provides a dollar-for-dollar match at farmer’s markets to shoppers receiving economic assistance through EBT (Electronics Benefits Transfer, which is more widely know as food stamps) or WIC (the supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children).
According to the Los Angeles Times, the new funds could triple the impact of Market Match over the next several years. James Haydu, the executive director of Sustainable Economic Enterprises-Los Angeles, told David Karp of the Times, “It will not only expand the countywide program, but through the next five years it will make it far easier to be able to quickly explain how the system works to ensure that as many people as possible can take advantage of it.”
In 2010, Market Match started with only $3,000 of funding, serving just two farmer’s markets. With such a tiny amount of money available, the dollar-for-dollar matches quickly ran out. But with a projected $80,000 available to fund next year’s program, many more families will be able to enjoy the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. Market Match is now available at 14 L.A. farmer’s markets, and organizers hope to expand it to 37 markets during the grant-funded period.
Martin Bourque, the director of the Ecology Center in Berkeley, California, that manages the Market Match program, said that the funds will not only benefit low-income people in Los Angeles, but also enhance the health of California’s rural lands and its economy. Their survey of farmers at the markets indicated that 80 percent of them sold more produce as a result of the program.
“It’s important to remember that in addition to serving low-income shoppers, every dollar they spend is going to one of California’s small family farmers,” Bourque said. “So every dollar is doing double-duty — not only helping poor people in Los Angeles, but reaching out and helping some of California’s most economically devastated rural communities as well.”
Who knew the simple purchase of some locally-grown strawberries had the power to accomplish all that?