Giving farmers and farmers markets the ability to fulfill Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) purchases online is one recommendation presented by a group of Ohio farm organizations in response to the COVID-19 crisis.
An 18-page report by the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, Ohio Farmers Market Network, Ohio Food Policy Network and Produce Perks Midwest reviews how local and regional food systems and nutrition assistance were hurt by COVID-19.
The report, called “Opportunity in a Time of Crisis: Recommendations for building a more resilient Ohio food system,” gives eight recommendations that the groups say will increase the capacity of Ohio’s farmers and farmers markets to serve a changed market and also will contribute to food security for vulnerable families.
- Create a food work group to identify strategies to fund and build farmers market capacity including technical assistance and infrastructure development for online purchasing platforms for farmers markets, direct-to-consumer producers and local retailers;
- Create a food work group to identify areas where creation of food preservation, processing, and distribution facilities are needed and how they can be financed;
- Passage of the HEROES Act by Congress, with aid for under-served farmers and those selling into local food systems;
- Passage of the Ohio Family Farm ReGeneration Act ;
- Changes to state contract bidding requirements for local food purchasing;
- Online infrastructure development for SNAP nutrition incentive programming, like Produce Perks;
- Support of the SNAP Online Expansion and Delivery Act; and
- Passage of Ohio Senate Bill 121, which supports nutrition education.
Some local and regional farmers and farmers markets have put in place online ordering, drive-through markets and other methods to deal with the COVID-19 crisis, Amalie Lipstreu, policy director of the Ohio Ecological Food and Farm Association, said in a news release. At the same time, they experienced higher labor costs and have lost substantial revenue compared with pre-COVID-19 conditions.
Some markets were closed and many lost income from vendor fees and cancellation of eduction or entertainment activities.
“While this response (to the crisis) has been remarkable, it is ultimately unsustainable without leadership and investment,” she said in the release.
The pandemic has strained nutrition assistance programs, the release said, as more Ohio families are struggling to afford food and grocery sales have shifted online.
Record unemployment and the closure of schools has increased the demand for SNAP benefits. With expanded unemployment assistance scheduled to end on July 31, the release said many Ohioans may be left with limited resources for purchasing food, potentially driving more people to the emergency food system.
“Local food systems have the potential to address many of the needs of food insecure Ohioans while at the same time generating real economic benefit to farmers and local communities,” Tevis Foreman, Produce Perks Midwest executive director, said in the release. “We must invest in online infrastructure development for SNAP nutrition incentive programming and address barriers to ensure that those purchases can be made from farmers, farmers markets, and local retailers, not just big box retailers such as Amazon and Walmart.”
In a June 30 news conference about the report, Foreman said the challenges of building the online sales capacity of local producers and farmers markets will be complex.
“I think (the challenges) will vary from market to market and from retailer to retailer,”he said. “I think part of the recommendation around the investment at the state and federal level is to work collectively and collaboratively with our farmers our direct-to-consumer producers and small scale retailers to navigate those individual challenges and also work towards collective solutions.”