Like a well-prepared dish made with unusual ingredients, the Saturday Oak Park Farmers Market provides a little of this and a little of that to create a remarkable community gathering. The market has delicious, locally grown fruits and vegetables as well as healthy tamales and breads, while also featuring free 15-minute massages from the National Holistic Institute and a delightful jazz set from the Joe Carlson Trio.
At the market, I purchased several baskets of drop-dead, mouthwatering strawberries from Mike Lao. His father and mother have been farming on 30 acres in Elk Grove for the last 30 years, providing cucumbers, tomatoes, strawberries and other delights to sell at farmers markets here and in the Bay Area.
But the market is more than a weekly event that allows us to enjoy fresh produce. It is also part of a nationwide movement with the power to improve our health and create new jobs.
With grants from the Sacramento Hunger Coalition and the California Specialty Crop funding through Soil Born Farms, food-stamp recipients are able to double the value of their food stamps at the Oak Park Farmers Market.
Food stamp (now called CalFresh) recipients use their cards to purchase wooden tokens that can only be used at the Oak Park Farmers Market. These magical tokens have twice the value of the original food stamps. At the end of market day, the local farmers turn in the wooden tokens for payment.
This program tackles one of our country’s major health-care problems: the high cost of fresh fruits and vegetables. CalFresh user Alex Byrne told me he receives $140 per month from CalFresh. With the double-your-money program, Byrne says he uses around $15 of his grant to buy $30 of healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables each week.
If more individuals purchased $30 of fruits and vegetables each week, we could dramatically reduce our country’s health problems, as well as our country’s health bill. The doubling of food stamps could also increase local farming jobs. The Sacramento region, one of the world’s best agricultural areas, grows around $1.9 billion of agricultural products. We purchase around $1.6 billion dollars of food products. But only 2 percent of the food that we purchase comes from the Sacramento area.
This is crazy. It is even crazier considering that we have tons of fertile, unused farmland. And the farmers who want to grow more can’t, because they lack markets. If we increased our local purchases from 2 to 5 percent, we could create thousands of jobs in the local farm industry. What’s stopping us?