NEW YORK—Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s efforts to help curb the obesity problem continued Monday as he expanded the city’s Health Bucks program to all 138 farmers markets.
“Today, we are announcing a great way to make healthy eating even easier and less expensive for thousands of New Yorkers and in the process, fight the obesity epidemic in our city,” Mayor Bloomberg said from the Union Square Greenmarket Monday.
Between now and November 15, New York’s 1.8 million federal food-stamp recipients will receive an extra $2 in Health Bucks for every $5 they spend at farmers markets. “That is really increasing your buying power by 40 percent—a terrific way to stretch your budget,” Bloomberg said.
Food-stamp recipients can use their Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card in a terminal at the farmers market, and get tokens to spend at any of the stands. After they have purchased produce totaling more than $5 using their tokens, the stand will give them Heath Bucks–an additional paper coupon, redeemable just like cash.
Both the Health Buck coupons and the EBT tokens are redeemable at any farmers market, and can be used all summer long.
A food-stamp recipient, who requested his name not be used, said he was really glad the city had extended the Health Bucks program. “Now I can actually buy wholesome fresh food instead of the junk at the grocery store,” he said.
Accepting EBT at farmers markets has increased sales for some farmers—24 to 50 percent—since 2005, when only three markets in the city accepted EBT.
“Since Grow NYC’s EBT program launched, sales made with food stamps made at our green markets have grown from $1,000 in 2005 to $640,000 last year,” said Cheryl Huber, assistant director of Green Markets at Grown NYC. “This increase demonstrates the overwhelming demand from all New Yorkers to feed their families fresh, healthy food.” Grow NYC runs more than 50 of the 138 farmers markets in New York City.
Huber said $200,000 in Health Bucks is available this year, double from last year.
The farmers will not see the money for a month, unlike when customers pay with cash, but that did not seem to deter the farmers at Union Square Greenmarket.
“As long as we get it and it ends up in the bank account, it’s fine by me,” Ryan Race of Race Farms in Blairstown, N.J., said. “Anything that helps people out that need it. It is nice they gear it toward the farmers market because they are supporting local business.”
Joe O’Brien of Healthway Farms in Highland, N.Y., said the Health Bucks are sent off to Farmers Market Federation for redemption, and it had always been a good system in the past. He noticed an increase in the income and said he liked exposing patrons to locally grown foods.
Hitting Obesity in the Gut
City officials hoped the Health Bucks effort would help the nearly 60 percent of New York adults that are considered obese or overweight, many of whom come from low-income communities.
“This is a great way to make sure low- and moderate-income New Yorkers and seniors get more healthy fruit and vegetables into their homes to help eat healthier and make themselves and their families healthier,” City Council Speaker Christine Quinn said.
The obesity epidemic has increased substantially over the last 40 years, something that concerns New York City Heath Commissioner Thomas Farley. He said people or people’s genes have not changed, but instead it is the food choices we make.“We have a much greater accessibility to high-calorie snack foods than we did 40 years ago and less availability to fresh fruits and vegetables,” Farley said. He said fruits and vegetables cost less and fill you up more than junk food such as potato chips.
All the officials on hand at Union Square Greenmarket hoped that with initiatives like Health Bucks, Bloomberg’s proposed sugary drink legislation, as well as educating children about healthy eating at a younger age will help reduce the obesity problem.
“Everyone should eat more fruits and vegetables. There is no better place to get fruits and vegetables than at the farmers market,” Farley said.
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