SNAP data case heard by Supreme Court this week

The Supreme Court on Monday heard arguments in a case that will decide whether or not the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have to disclose retailers’ sales data from the federally-funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly food stamps). It will likely announce its decision later this summer.

If the court rules that the agency does have to release retailers’ SNAP sales information, the public will learn more about which grocery companies generate the most income from the program. The last—and most recent—public disclosure of that information happened by accident in 2013, when a Walmart executive let slip at a dinner party that the company made $13 billion from the program.

The Argus Leader, a South Dakota-based newspaper, first sought the disclosure of this data through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) in 2010. Since 1966, FOIA has required the government to release previously undisclosed documents to the public unless they fall under one of nine exemptions. USDA denied the Leader’s request based on Exemption 4, which protects “trade secrets and commercial or financial information.”

Supreme Court hears arguments in case with major implications for food retailers and press freedom

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Farmers Markets Need Support to Collect and Use Data

For the past year and a half, I have been attempting to wrangle the last seven years of FMC’s technical assistance around market evaluation (and the last 18 for me) into some sort of timeline and “lessons learned” to present to researchers and partners interested in farmers markets and data.

The process of writing a peer-reviewed paper was new to me and my fellow authors and the entire FMC team soldiered on with me as best they could, cheering me on and adding much needed perspective and edits at different points of the process. After a year and a half of drafting and reviewing, we released the article linked below through the skill of the JAFSCD team, but also because of the support of the USDA/AMS team. I think it should be said as often as possible that the AMS team is firmly dedicated to assisting farmers markets with whatever trends that arise, and in developing programs at USDA that reflect the current conditions of markets in order to increase their ability to support family farmers and harvesters. The evaluation work is just one example of how they have watched developments and offered support where they thought applicable.
The reason for FMC to put effort into this type of academic article is to make sure that researchers see the opportunity to have market operators be part of the process around what data is collected via markets and market vendors, and how it is used. It certainly doesn’t mean that we think that all of the work to collect and clean the data should be shouldered by the markets only or that using the data is their work alone. I hope that is clear in this paper. But we DO think that market work is increasingly focused around managers and vendors making data-driven decisions, and so the way the market team spends its time and how well it analyzes and shares data also has to evolve. That isn’t our choice; that is the result of the world taking a larger interest in regional food and farming, as well as the constant pressure from the retail food sector. Many in that latter group want to cash in on the trust and authenticity we value without holding the same accountability to producers that we have. We have to fight that, and doing it with data is the best way.

Finally, we think there is still much to know about the barriers to embedding data systems for grassroots markets; this paper only covers what we have learned since 2011 and up to the beginning of 2018. Much more is constantly being learned and will be reflected in the TA we offer markets and their partners.

Please email me with comments and questions about the paper and its findings.

Dar

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FMC press release: December 18, 2018 – Collecting data at farmers markets is not a new endeavor. But until recently, the data was largely collected and used by researchers, often to understand the role farmers markets play in the broader food system. Over the last seven years, the Farmers Market Coalition (FMC) – a national nonprofit dedicated to strengthening farmers markets – has partnered with research institutions and market organizations to better understand how market organizations have begun to collect and use data.

While until recently it was rare for market organizations to participate in the collection of their own market-level data, more and more markets have reached out to FMC over the last decade for data collection technical assistance. In 2011, the organization began to identify common characteristics and impacts of market programs, and realized more research into evaluation resources and tools that could be used easily by understaffed market operators was needed.

In a new article published in the Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development (JAFSCD), FMC outlines the industry need behind creating the Farmers Market Metrics (Metrics) program, and a timeline of the steps and partnerships that led to the creation of the tool, as well as best practices uncovered during its development.

Key recommendations include:

Create assigned roles for the market’s data collection team, and choose training materials that set expectations for seasonal staff, volunteers, and interns to maximize time and efficiency.
Prioritize staff support to allow market leaders more time to oversee data collection.
Gain vendors’ trust in the program for sharing and storing sensitive data.
Patience and support from funders and network leaders for each market’s level of capacity and comfort with data collection.
More assistance from funders and network leaders in helping markets select metrics to collect, as well as advancing data collection training for market staff.
The use of tools such as the USDA’s Local Foods Economic Toolkit, coupled with consistent support from academic partners, will encourage market leaders to delve more deeply into economic data and to feel more confident sharing results.

“FMC’s efforts to craft a suitable set of resources and a data management system for high-functioning but low-capacity market organizations has helped many stakeholders understand and share the many positive impacts their partner markets are making,” said FMC Senior Advisor and article author Darlene Wolnik. “But our analysis concludes that there is still foundational work to be done by those stakeholders to aid these organizations in collecting and using data.”

Wolnik continued, “The good news is that market-level data collection yields important information that markets can use to improve operations, share with researchers, communicate impacts to stakeholders, advocate for and promote vendors, and more.”

Updated Information Regarding Novo Dia Group Shutdown 

I have a lot to tell you about my trip to Denver for the Slow Food Nations event, and to share ideas and research about vendor development at markets, and talk about the upcoming Direct Marketing Ag Summit in mid September, but instead of that, this post will focus on the immediate crisis in front of us: the recent news about the shutdown of the Novo Dia Group, which effectively will cease card processing for 1700 farmers markets and farmers during (most of the) country’s busiest market season. Since the news broke, my FMC colleagues have worked day and night listening to market leaders, asking questions of all of the players involved, explaining the problem to media and to our elected officials and strategizing with markets, farmers and partners about solutions. Now there is a single place to find all of the information and FMC will continue to update that page with the latest information.

Source: Information Regarding Novo Dia Group Shutdown – Farmers Market Coalition

As we’re scrambling to fix health care, food stamps are quietly paying off.

I look forward to reading the report in total but I think any market community knows that focusing on healthy food is a very good indicator of the willingness for behavior change. Of course, I’d be interested to see how many participated in incentive campaigns and/or shopped at farmers markets with their SNAP dollars.

Berkowitz’s study looked at roughly 4,400 low-income adults, about 40% of whom were on SNAP. When Berkowitz’s team compared how much the average person in each group was spending on health care, they found the SNAP group spent about $1,400 less per year.

For comparison, the average single adult on SNAP receives about $1,500 a year in benefits.

A total of 4447 participants (2567 women and 1880 men) were enrolled in the study, mean (SE) age, 42.7 (0.5) years; 1889 were SNAP participants, and 2558 were not. Compared with other low-income adults, SNAP participants were younger (mean [SE] age, 40.3 [0.6] vs 44.1 [0.7] years), more likely to have public insurance or be uninsured (84.9% vs 67.7%), and more likely to be disabled (24.2% vs 10.6%) (P < .001 for all). In age- and gender-adjusted models, health care expenditures between those who did and did not participate in SNAP were similar (difference, $34; 95% CI, −$1097 to $1165). In fully adjusted models, SNAP was associated with lower estimated annual health care expenditures (−$1409; 95% CI, −$2694 to −$125). Sensitivity analyses were consistent with these results, also indicating that SNAP participation was associated with significantly lower estimated expenditures.

Source: story

In case anyone needs convincing:

Diet is the second highest risk factor for early death after smoking. Other high risks are high blood glucose which can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, high body mass index (BMI) which is a measure of obesity, and high total cholesterol. All of these can be related to eating the wrong foods, although there are also other causes.
https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/sep/14/poor-diet-is-a-factor-in-one-in-five-deaths-global-disease-study-reveals

FINI report, Year 1

In Year one, FINI supported incentive programs at almost 1,000 farmers markets, representing 4,000 direct marketing farmers in 27 states. These farmers market programs alone generated almost $8 million in SNAP and incentive sales spent on produce. Program evaluation conducted by grantees indicated uniformly high redemption rates, strong support for the program among stakeholders, and a great deal of collaboration from both public agencies and private program partners. These collaborations were particularly important in conducting outreach to SNAP recipients.

 

FINI_FarmersMarkets_Year1_FMC_170413

6 Things Paul Ryan Doesn’t Understand About Poverty (But I Didn’t, Either) 

Karen Weese is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Salon, Dow Jones Investment Advisor, the Cincinnati Enquirer, Everyday Family, and other publications.

There are many prescriptions for combating poverty, but we can’t even get started unless we first examine our assumptions, and take the time to envision what the world feels like for families living in poverty every day.

Alternet