Refugee Resettlement Watch

Fresh “refugee” produced food is not cheap food

Posted by Ann Corcoran on February 11, 2013

…for the taxpayer.

Your tax dollars at work!

I’ve written about this topic before (here is just one post), but since we have new readers all the time, they might not know that their tax dollars are funding “community” gardens as part of the “sustainable” agricultural movement in the US.

I don’t think there is anyone who doesn’t like the idea of small producers having community markets in which to sell the fruits (and vegetables) of their labors.    And, before critics pounce, I know darn well that big agri-business is funded with tax dollars and I don’t like that either!   I simply wish to help you be more informed.

For your education then, know that the Office of Refugee Resettlement is awarding grants for community gardening projects and they have (with the help of the International Rescue Committee) figured out how to make it possible for food stamps and other welfare sources of funding to be used at community markets.

Here is the article from East County Magazine (CA) that got my attention (emphasis mine):

January 30, 2013 (El Cajon*) – Last week, Troy McKinney, Fresh Fund coordinator from the International Rescue committee (IRC), participated in an exclusive interview with East County Magazine. He gave more details of the future farmers’ market that will be set up on the Prescott Promenade in downtown El Cajon each Thursday starting March 21.

Like the IRC’s farmer’s market started four years ago in City Heights, the El Cajon farmer’s market will help both local refugees and the broader community.

The market has been getting encouragement and support from the City of El Cajon as well as local merchants enthused about bringing more people into the area, McKinney said. “This will be great asset to the downtown area.”

“We noticed the great benefits to the community,” McKinney said.  The Fresh Fund program provides incentivizes low-income families to shop at the market (i.e. those with SNAP- Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as FoodStamps, WIC (Women Infants Children), or SSI (Supplemental Security Income)). When participants come and spend $15 at the farmer’s market, they can then receive an extra $15. A percentage of stall fees at the farmer’s market will go back into the ‘Fresh Fund’ to incentivize more people to participate and shop there.

Say what?  If they spend $15 of their food stamp benefits, they receive $15 (in cash?).  Isn’t that trafficking in food stamps?  And, who is giving them the extra $15?

Anyone can come to the market. The food “is all San Diego grown; we want to keep it as local as possible. There may be some farmers that aren’t East County, but are San Diego grown.”

At the IRC, the food security department works with refugees in farmer training programs, such as aquaponics classes.  Some of these IRC clients will be selling their foods at the farmers’ market, generating much-needed revenues for the refugees and their families.

“We’re still in the process of community backyard growers to sell. It’s great for the youth and community to get healthy, fresh food,” McKinney said. “We want the market to be very inclusive from certified organic to backyard growers.” You can even get a hot meal there too.”

There are many health benefits to the market, including “access to the highest quality of fruits and vegetables you can buy from San Diego,” said McKinney, adding, “There will be more energy growing downtown. This is directly supporting our farmers and local economy. They can hire more people. We can grow our economy from the ground up.”

This is how the IRC describes its Fresh Fund program, here.

Fresh Fund is a farmers’ market incentive program that leverages the purchasing power of SNAP and WIC dollars to support local farmers and increase access to healthy, fresh foods to under-served communities.

Residents enrolled in CalFresh/SNAP (the food stamp program), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), or Supplemental Security Income (SSI/Disability) may sign up for Fresh Fund at participating farmers’ markets that are EBT-accessible.

See their webpage and the offer of $15 if shoppers use their welfare benefits at the market.    I have to say, after writing about food stamp trafficking for five years now, I see enormous potential for fraud at these largely unregulated local “farmer’s” markets.

The Founding Fathers should be rolling in their graves to see the government using taxpayer money to help out-compete the local Mom and Pop small farmer who isn’t on the dole.

Before I get to the IRC’s litany of fabulous results for their Fresh Funds, be sure to have a look at the Office of Refugee Resettlement Agricultural Refugee Partnership GRANT program that lists all the federal GRANT MONEY available to federal refugee contractors (like the IRC) to set up garden projects so that refugees can grow the food that is sold in these taxpayer-subsidized markets.  The growing and the selling are both subsidized with your tax dollars (federal, state and local).

So what do we get out of this—the redistribution of your money in one big circle?

We pay the refugee growers who then sell their produce to those with food stamps and the welfare users get extra money from you as an incentive to use their food stamps.

Here is what the IRC says are the benefits of Fresh Funds (welfare benefits used at farmers’ markets in Cali):

Program outcomes have been staggering—particularly at the City Heights Farmers’ Market—when compared to farmers’ markets on the national stage. The following national statistics are taken from the Agricultural Marketing Service 2006 Farmers’ Market Vendor Survey.

~Annual income for the CHFM was more than double the national average for farmers’ markets. (National average $243,000; CHFM $522,291).
~SNAP sales at the CHFM are more than 20 times the national average (National $279/mo.; CHFM $6,092/mo).
~The race/ethnicity of farmers’ market vendors at the national level is 89% white and 11% non-white; farmers at CHFM are 3% white and 97% non-white. [and why is this an important stat?--ed]

These numbers are particularly poignant when reflected upon individual vendors.  Average farm vendor revenue at the CHFM was $47,000 in 2011.  Fewer than 6% of vendors at the national level gross between $25K and $100K annually.  Further, the top selling farmer at the CHFM grossed more than $122K in 2011.  Fewer than 1% of farmers’ market vendors nationally gross over $100,000 per year.  The same farm also created 8 new jobs as a result of their market sales, pointing to the broad impacts such programs can have on individual businesses and the broader economy.

Just for fun, have a look at the IRC’s most recent Form 990, here.  They are a $431 million a year operation and taxpayers give them $247 million of that (p. 9).  They say they are trying to raise private funds for the Fresh Fund,  but they are definitely in a strong position to help their people (refugees) out-compete a non-subsidized small farmer if their ‘private’ (foundation?) dollars don’t materialize.

* El Cajon, where this story originates, is a refugee-overloaded city.  Here is our archive of posts on the troubles they have.

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