Community promotes eating locally while doubling SNAP benefits

Do you know where the food you last ate came from? Recent research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found only one in 10 Americans eat enough fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.

Neighborhood Co-op Grocery, Food Works — a non-profit organization dedicated to local and organic food systems development — and Southern Illinois Healthcare are starting an Eat Local challenge from Sept. 5 to 19.  

The challenge aims to broaden the appreciation of the power of local food to keep community members healthy and boost the economy. Neighborhood Co-op Grocery, along with participating area restaurants, markets and food destinations, is offering specials, tastings, meals and events.

People who complete the two-week challenge and turn in their Eat Local Passport by Sept. 26 are eligible to win local food prizes. Participants will use the passport to track their spending at groceries, farmers’ markets, restaurants, and farms.  Those who spend their local food dollars at participating restaurants are eligible to win a $250 Co-op gift card.  To learn more about the challenge, click here.

Angie Bailey with Southern Illinois Healthcare says eating locally grown food encourages people to eat more fruits and vegetables, which enables them "to lead healthier lives while reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease and its risk factors such as diabetes and obesity."

Debra Gregory, a registered dietitian with Southern Illinois Healthcare, says eating locally can help bring down illnesses and allergies. She says nearby fruit and vegetables can also retain their vitamins longer and don’t have any added preservatives or injected ingredients.

The website One Green Planet reports that once, “produce is packaged, its optimal nutritional level decreases, specifically some vitamins such as C, E, A and some B. There are other factors that come into play, such as exposure to artificial lights and air, and temperature changes.”

Reanna Putnam, market manager for the Community Farmers Markets in Carbondale,  says the markts are helping make fresh food available and affordable to everyone through a Double Up food bucks program from Sept. 5 to Dec.19 for SNAP benefits.

Double Up matches the value of SNAP purchases made at participating sites with additional dollars. For instance, a family that spends $10 in SNAP benefits at a participating farmers’ market receives an additional $10 in Double Up Food Bucks.

Double Up Food Bucks will be available at the Community Farmers Market on Wednesdays in downtown Carbondale from 4 p.m. 7 p.m. at 220 S. Washington Street, between Main Street and Walnut Street; and at Carbondale Community High School on Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. The outdoor markets will run through the end of October. The Community Farmers Market also operates an indoor market November through April, where Double Up food bucks tokens can be redeemed while supplies last.

Putnam says the program’s success in Michigan inspired her to start a pilot program here, sponsored by Southern Illinois Healthcare.  Putnam is hoping they get more sponsors next year and to eventually expand the program.

She says a mom who has used the program for a year in Michigan found life changing, and told her “Just how wonderful it was to have kids eating better food."

"Somebody posed a question to her saying, ‘Don’t you spend more time in the kitchen?’ She’s like ‘Yeah, but I spend more time with my kids. My kids are in the kitchen with me. They’re cooking with me. They’re being able to enjoy and taste the food as we cook it. I spend less time at the doctor’s office because my kids are healthier, my kids are doing better in school,’ all these things because of the Double Up food bucks program,” Putnam said.

Putnam hopes this Double Up program and Eat Local Challenge will encourage people to earn to cook this food and see it’s feasible to consume. Farmer Bruce Chrisman’s sells food at Carbondale’s farmers markets. His farm five miles away from Carbondale.

“You can’t lose eating healthy, the other part of it, is it tastes good,” Chrisman said.

He said his farm, Country Sprout Organics, had had its best season in several years. He attributes it to the increased trend to buy locally. He’s also encouraged by the increase in interest by a younger generation wanting to learn farming.

“We need young people to come in and start doing this, and they’re interested in the progressive —what’s on the cutting-edge. The cutting edge right now is local and organic. That’s including local, organic, sustainable," Chrisman said. "That’s what people are really interested in, and they want a food that taste good, that’s local, that’s fresh, that’s nutritious.”

Carbondale Assistant City Manager Gary Williams says they commissioned a study with Food Works that found southern Illinois spends an average of $1.8 billion on food in a year, and $1.7 of it is imported.

“It’s a real opportunity to put local money back into our economy. We all know that those dollars recycle many more times when we spend them locally,” Williams said.

He says a healthier workforce is also more attractive to prospective companies.

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