Farmers Markets Serving Veterans

      Posted On: June 19, 2017

Photo credit: GRACE Communications Foundation 

America’s farmers market programs are stepping up to answer the widespread issue of veteran food insecurity.

According to the Department of Veteran Affairs (VA), veterans display high percentages of obesity and/or diabetes that are alarmingly disproportionate to the general population. These worrying numbers correlate directly to the lack of funds or healthy options veterans have to maintain a regimented and balanced diet. Financial factors as well as social stigmas, mental illness, education, and lack of knowledge of resources can contribute to veteran food insecurity.

New York has been leading the way for veteran food program implementation in other states since Governor Andrew Cuomo created the FreshConnect Checks Program in 2011. The program incentivizes veteran participation through the SNAP program while also boosting the local economy and generating more income for local farmers. The 2017-2018 New York state budget has accounted for an increase in FreshConnect Checks Program funding, with $100,000 allocated towards veterans.

Local farmers markets draw in veterans through their food programs and fresh food offerings while also addressing practical food education through cooking demonstrations and direct producer-consumer relations. In New York, the VA on Long Island, Island Harvest, and Long Island Cares partner up to more fully serve vets through food pantries, cooking classes, and a community garden. Other states lending aid to their veterans include Connecticut and West Virginia.

Connecticut’s Specialty Crop Block Grant program accounted for $25,000 in the Veteran Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program funding in 2012. Martinsburg West Virginia VA Medical Center nutritionists are addressing veteran patient’s diet-based diseases by doubling the center’s farmers market benefits, thanks to funding made possible by the 2014 Farm Bill.The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service is networking with the VA to nationally source EBT equipment to farmers markets near VA hospitals and clinics, and D.C.’s Community Foodworks has created a VA Farmers Market Finder to help interested parties locate farmers markets near vet facilities.

Farmers markets food programs and funding allocations contribute to an improved quality of life for veterans. By keeping our heroes in mind and close to their food source, we can foster a more inclusive, healthier community, by serving those who once served us.

Gary Matteson, FMC Treasurer and Vice President of Young, Beginning, Small Farmer Programs and Outreach at the Farm Credit Council weighs in on veteran farmers market programs: “Incentives for military veterans to get fresh, safe, local food at farmers’ markets is a great way to improve health outcomes and encourage community interaction for veterans while supporting local farmers.  It’s a policy win every way you look at it.”

Learn more about farmers markets and these efforts via GRACE Communications Foundation’s article.