The importance of Local Affordable Food Incentives in our food system.

Many people share with us that they would buy more locally grown food if the farmers didn’t charge so much money for it. We at Petaluma Bounty understand full well that when the budget is tight, and with the cost of living so high in Sonoma County, we all have to make sacrifices. Also, when we see the difference in the cost of food at a local grocery store compared to a local farmers’ market, it is natural to think that something is not right.

But here’s the thing, the “not right” piece isn’t that farmers are rolling in money at the cost of consumers, or that as a group they’re just bad at business and need to learn to be more efficient in order to compete with grocery stores. Most farmers and farm workers we know need to charge a “premium” for their food in order to get by, often with wages lower than you or I made in high school. Most small-scale farmers we know could qualify as low-income.

So the “not right” piece has much more to do with shortfalls of our conventional food system (soil degradation; farm runoff that creates a lack of clean water; food access deficits; lack of equitable labor practices; expanded carbon foot print for certain farming practices; loss of genetic diversity; too great a reliance on fossil fuels; loss of economic viability of small and mid-sized farms; food waste; lack of consumer food literacy, to name a few) as well as federal and state policies. Additionally, our conventional food system has skewed our sense of normal since the cheaper food that we’re accustomed to includes subsidies to large corporate agriculture and externalities (costs to society) including worker well-being, environmental impacts, and public health crises. These are complex societal problems that we can’t expect small-scale farmers to resolve for the rest of us.

Low income customers can’t afford locally grown food and small-scale farmers can’t afford to sell to low-income consumers. This is a food system problem and Petaluma Bounty is working hard to facilitate community solutions, including Local Affordable Food Incentives.

Local Affordable Food Incentives (LAFI’s) is a phrase we at Petaluma Bounty created to better describe initiatives that increase the purchasing power of low-income customers. This allows them to more fully participate in the local food movement and reduces the impact of higher upfront costs of locally grown food. It’s important to define what LAFI’s are, what role they play in our larger efforts, and why we think they are important.

LAFI’s are market mechanisms that make locally grown food more affordable to low-income consumers, while ensuring that farmers receive the full value for their product. They may look like a one-time voucher such as Produce Prescriptions, a sliding-scale or two-tier price structure at the Bounty Farmacy, Sponsor-A-Box or subsidized CSA boxes, or Farmers’ Market L.I.F.E./ Market Match. Petaluma Bounty has been piloting innovative LAFI’s since 2007. While some of these initiatives did not withstand the test of time or sustainability, we learned a lot from the process and these experiments informed our approach and goals today.

Petaluma Bounty’s LAFI’s make healthy, locally grown food more affordable for all people by:

  • maximizing utilization rates of existing federal, state and local programs such as SNAP, WIC, Senior Farmers Market Coupons, etc.
  • increasing the purchasing power of low-income neighbors, and
  • incentivizing the purchase of healthful food as a preventive, cost saving method to addressing diet-related chronic diseases and conditions.

These initiatives have multiple objectives, including: increased consumption of healthy, local, sustainably grown food by low-income community members; improved economic viability of local farms; and reduced distance and disconnect between consumers and farmers.

Petaluma Bounty seeks to expand LFAI’s because we see the value in benefiting multiple stakeholders (low-income consumers, farmers and our local economy) while incentivizing healthy behaviors that have the potential to save us all money in the long term by preventing chronic, diet-related diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and obesity.

Local Affordable Food Incentives work only when they are supported by the community-both through raising awareness of these opportunities as well as through funding. Presently, Bounty’s LAFI’s are funded by corporate sponsorship, individual donations, grants, and now through USDA FINI funding of the California Market Match Consortium. If you are interested in ensuring the benefits of LAFI’s please consider a donation to Petaluma Bounty or contact Suzi for more information.

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