People in Washington Who Get Food Stamps Sometimes Start Gardening| Latest News!

Maggie Slight was happy to learn that she could use food stamps to buy seeds and plants over two decades ago. Slight, a low-income Olympian with ADHD, autism, and Ehlers-Danlos disease has been fine-tuning her food-growing approach ever since.

Many people know that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), sometimes known as food stamps, allows more people to shop at the grocery store.

SNAP funds can be used to buy milk, bread, veggies, and other food items for families earning up to 200 percent of the federal poverty threshold. Immigrants may be eligible for SNAP’s twin, the State Food Assistance Program.

But, according to King County gardening NGOs and the SNAP program itself, fewer individuals know these benefits can help them grow their own fresh vegetables.

During the pandemic, more residents are eligible for food assistance, and more are interested in sustainable living techniques like home and communal gardening.

SNAP enrollment in King County climbed from 10.7% in February 2020 to 11.67% in December 2021 or 106,105 families. The most recent demographic data reveals that 20% of applicants were new to the benefits between March and August 2020. Many enrollees are black.

As residents explore methods to make their families and communities more resilient to economic and ecological stressors, experts believe it’s more crucial than ever to promote low-cost seed and gardening options.

An option long forgotten

Missy Trainer, an organizer of the Haller Lake P-Patch Giving Garden, says many of the methods individuals get free seeds and plant starts in King County involve “grassroots.”

But gardening help has been available since 1973 when the Food Stamp Act was updated to include “seeds and seedlings for use in gardens to generate food for the qualified household’s personal consumption.”

Adding homegrown food to your diet can save money. In fact, for the same price as a huge tomato, Kerri Cacciata, market programs director at Tilth Alliance’s Rainier Beach Urban Farm & Wetlands, says a packet of seeds or plant start would yield more fruit.

Better yet, says Tilth’s Laura Matter, you can keep the seeds from fruit like a tomato for later use.

It provides low-cost resources for growing crops worth considerably more when mature and collected. Eat what you grew is exciting,” Matter explains.

Food banks, seed stores, convenience, and drug stores, as well as farmers’ markets, accept SNAP. The MarketWatch program doubles SNAP benefits. They can also use them at internet stores.

But how many people actually use or benefit from SNAP’s seeds and food-bearing plants is unknown.
“I want people to know they have that option,”

says Angela Amico, program manager of SNAP-Ed, a 30-year-old program that helps SNAP recipients eat healthier and stay active.

Food Stamps

Amico, who helps individuals stretch their SNAP dollars, says the opportunity to buy seeds and starts isn’t widely understood.

Gardening is becoming more of a part of the SNAP-Ed program, with partners like Washington State University and the Lummi Tribal Health Center.

Neither the USDA nor the state Department of Social and Health Services track SNAP-related seed and plant-start spending.

The most recent USDA data for SNAP expenditures countrywide reveal 0.3 percent of assistance went to “miscellaneous” spending.

Alexandria Soleil DeLong, of Seattle, grew food for food banks for 15 months while receiving SNAP subsidies.

In fact, until interacting with Crosscut, DeLong, a soil health and food justice advocate, had no idea they could utilize SNAP assistance to buy seeds and seedlings.

Some seed and food-plant sellers claim the option is being used. People have used SNAP benefits to buy edible plant beginnings like broccoli, beets, leafy greens, and more at Tilth events like the annual Edible Plant Sale and the seasonal farm stand adds Cacciatora.

Locals like Slighte are so enthusiastic about this alternative that they create instructional movies to share online. The NeurodivergentGranny tells users how to quadruple their SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets, where she bought tomato plants last year and preserved seeds for future harvests.

Even in the winter, she says, her first year of having a “major” patio garden provides around 10% of her food. She was able to cultivate roughly 30% of her own food in early autumn.

Using SNAP at farmers’ markets may be uncomfortable, DeLong adds, including tokens and Monopoly-style money. “I want to use public funds to support local farmers. “But it’s just a bizarre dismissive interaction,” they remarked.

Not every seed and start vendor participates, let alone knows they do, which adds to the difficulty of using SNAP funds for gardening.

Food purchases with SNAP make grocery stores more likely to accept SNAP than nurseries or garden centers, although even grocery clerks may not be aware of the possibility.

“If your cashiers don’t understand that you can do that, you’ll be confronted with swift judgment. “Your goals are thwarted before you even begin,” Slight explains.

I don’t know anyone who has utilized SNAP to buy seeds or plants, says Aimée Damman of Swansons Nursery. While the nursery distributes plants and seeds to groups like the Ballard Food Bank, it does not accept SNAP.

It’s not commonly known, she explains. “No demand.” Swanson’s would have to change its sales technology and possibly sell more food items to take SNAP subsidies.

However, General Manager Risa Wolfe thinks using SNAP funds on seeds and seedlings is a terrific idea. Urban Feed & Garden gives seeds to community gardens, including Nurturing Roots.

Her workers would accept SNAP benefits, but no one from SNAP has sought out to educate them on the program’s business side. ”I wouldn’t know what to do with SNAP benefits,” she admits.

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Obstacles to raising food
After getting seeds, one needs gardening supplies, time, and a container or place to garden.

Matter emphasizes the need for accessible communal gardens. “Time to cultivate is an issue, but having growing space at home or close helps.”

“You may buy carrot seeds, but they are worthless unless you have a place for them to grow,” says DeLong.
Access to resources in King County is uneven.

While Seattle’s P-Patch initiative makes several acres of land available to the community for gardening, including food gardening, the P-Patches often have years-long waitlists.

People need the education to succeed. Along with giving fresh produce, Tilth Alliance, The Beet Box, Solid Ground, and Nurturing Roots Farm among others provide gardening education.

Plant-Based Food Share and King County Seed Library also share seeds and seedlings.

The seed library’s seed supply was diminished due to the epidemic, according to coordinator Bill Thorness. “We haven’t had as many donations because seed businesses are busy.

Our concept calls for gardeners to bring seeds to share, but we haven’t done that in two years. “We may do one outside in spring,” he says.

Others share seeds. Last year, the White Center Food Bank provided 4,000 seed packets and 2,000 plant starts, according to Mara Bernard.
Slight believes that cultivating food with limited space and time during a stressful period is beneficial for more than simply fresh fruit.

“Using SNAP payments for gardening gives you a sense of self-sufficiency that low-income people don’t get,” Slight adds. “And that intangible advantage is huge for your emotional health.”

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