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  • 2 Dec 2016 4:34 PM | Deleted user

    SNAP, the acronym for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and historically known as the Food Stamp Program until the 2008 Farm Bill, is one of those government programs that seems endlessly controversial. 

    A couple common misconceptions:

    First, many SNAP recipients, usually people of color and non-citizens, are fraudulently buying vodka and cigarettes with tax-funded benefits. Or if they are buying food, its pure junk. 

    Meanwhile, recipients are staying enrolled in the program for decades, even a lifetime, as who wouldn't want to have "free" money to buy all their household's food?

    In 2016, there's a debate about whether SNAP participants can order food over the Internet and some concern. And in 2017 and beyond, there's a potentially massive controversy brewing with the slim possibility that SNAP funding will be made separate from the end-of-decade Farm Bill and/or block granted to the states. SNAP, and the more than 45 million people across the U.S. including more than 3 million Floridians who participate in the program, just can't seem to ever enjoy a moment's peace. 

    In this posting, I want to counter punch with the many good things about SNAP.

    Let the unpacking begin.

    A profile on snap participants

    First, who participates in SNAP? According to a December 2014 report prepared for the USDA's Food and Nutrition Service by Mathematica Policy Research, the plurality of SNAP clients is White

    Meanwhile, eligibility is extended "only to permanent residents legally present in the United States for at least five years, legal immigrant children (under 18), the elderly and disabled who were legally resident before August 1996, refugees and asylees, veterans and others with a military connection, those with a substantial history of work covered under the Social Security system, and certain other limited group of aliens." (More info in a SNAP Primer on eligibility and benefits here. And check out "9 myths and facts about SNAP benefits and immigrants" here.) 

    What SNAP participants are (and aren't) buying

    Now what about that vodka and cigarettes? Well, you can buy breads and cereals; fruits and veggies; meats, fish, and poultry; and dairy products. You can also buy seeds and food-producing plants and interestingly, 16% of Floridians seeking food assistance grow their own food, a 2014 study found. But sorry, you can't purchase alcohol or tobacco products or non-food items. 

    A study just released by the USDA in late November found that the differences between the expenditure patterns of SNAP and non-SNAP households were "relatively limited" as food choices were similar. Sadly, both groups aren't making choices consistent with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and obesity remains especially problematic among SNAP participants as this research indicates

    With that said, a higher rate of obesity shouldn't necessarily mean the program should be gutted. Rather, why can't we look at deeper investments in nutrition education (for all Americans) or "carrot-and-stick" approaches that help SNAP participants make healthier purchases (though a position I don't necessarily endorse). And keep supporting farmer's markets in Florida that incentivizes SNAP participants to buy fresh fruits and vegetables (and support local, small farms along the way.)

    But regardless of who's participating in SNAP, isn't fraud a problem? No. Unless, that is, you're losing sleep over a 1.3% fraud rate (down from more than four percent in the 1990s).

    The impermanence of SNAP participation

    Now what about the notion that people use SNAP for decades? Before we dive into that, let's also recognize that the average monthly SNAP benefit in Florida is $129 per person or $237 per household (less than Alabama, by the way). Indeed, the S word here is "Supplementary."

    Now how long do people participate in the program? Longer than I thought but certainly not a lifetime. And in Florida, the state legislature has significantly narrowed the eligibility period for some adults. 

    A Few Concluding Thoughts

    In October, I had the good fortune to attend the annual conference hosted by the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger at the University of South Florida and hear its keynote speaker, Dr. Craig Grundersen from the University of Illinois, speak on food insecurity. 

    If anyone can speak about what helps and what doesn't help low-income folks experiencing food insecurity, its Dr. Grundersen. And looking over my notes from his talk, two quotes from him jump out:

    "Make SNAP better" and "Food assistance programs begin and end with SNAP."

    If I can be forgiven in these (at best) uncertain political times for feeling a bit hopeful, I'd like to point out that it wasn't too long ago that there was a very strong, bipartisan support for SNAP. In the 1970s, Senator Bob Dole (a longtime Republican Senator from deep-red Kansas who today enthusiastically supports President-elect Trump) and George McGovern (the leftie, Democratic Senator from South Dakota who ran for President in 1972 as the voice for the radical counterculture) collaborated on legislation to increase access to the program). 

    So perhaps it is time we stopped playing politics as usual with hunger and SNAP, stop talking about reducing benefits for those who need it, connect and unite those in both urban and rural America, and work together (gasp!) to find ways, like good ole' Dole and McGovern. 

    --David Vaina is the Senior Director of Marketing, Communications & Brand Strategy at Treasure Coast Food Bank. His views here do not, in any way, reflect those of the Florida Food Policy Council or Treasure Coast Food Bank. 

  • 15 Sep 2016 2:35 PM | Deleted user

    By David Vania

    Across Florida and throughout the United States, we are recognizing Hunger Action Month this September. The month-long campaign is coordinated each year by the food banks to generate awareness about the consequences of food insecurity, and advocate for solutions -- both big and small -- to alleviate food insecurity. 

    A definition of food insecurity

    Before we consider the rate of food insecurity in Florida, it's important to first define the term and understand how it differs from "hunger." In short, food insecurity is about "limited or uncertain access to adequate food" while hunger is "the individual-level physiological condition that may result from food insecurity" (source: USDA's Economic Research Service).

    What this means is that when a child or adult experiences food insecurity, s/he may be hungry, though not all the time. Hunger could come just at the end of the month when SNAP (previously known as food stamps) benefits run out. Or food-secure individuals may experience food insecurity more often and be forced to make hard choices, such as purchasing medication or an adequate amount of nutritious foods. The different degrees of "food insecurity" explains why the USDA has created both a "low food security" label and a "very low food security" category. 

    the Scope of hunger in Florida

    In Florida, the latest numbers show that 3,227,600 people, or 16.2% of the state population, is food insecure (source: 2016 Map the Meal Gap data aggregated by Feeding America). 

    More: Florida's children and teens are food insecure at a higher rate (24.9%) than the overall population (16.2%). In actual numbers, that's 1,007,870 kids. 

    The good news, if there can be good news when evaluating food insecurity data, is that the percentage and overall rate have dropped year to year. Current stats indicate there's been a drop from last year's figures of 3,315,550, or 17% of the state population. 

    But back to the less-than-good news. The average cost of a Florida meal is up, now over $3 per person. Where I live, in Martin County, the average meal cost is a whopping $0.75 higher than the national average. While Meal costs are rising throughout the country, averaging $2.89 nationally, Floridians, on average, are paying $0.18 more per meal than people in other states. That may not sound like a lot, but start multiplying per meal, per person, and the weekly cost of food begins to make a dent in the budget of families struggling to make ends meet. 

    the face of food insecurity in Florida 

    Consider that 25% of the food-insecure population do not qualify for SNAP or other nutrition programs. This means that one in four Floridians are solely dependent on food banks and others providing emergency food assistance to fill the gap between money and basic needs each month. Many who do not qualify for SNAP still supplement their food supplies by accessing food banks, food pantries, and soup kitchens. The recent reintroduction of a three-month time limit for SNAP benefits among Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents compounds and individual's struggle against food insecurity. 

    Who is experiencing food insecurity in Florida? A 2014 report, Hunger in Florida 2014, found that: 

    58% of Florida households recieving food assistance have a member with high blood pressure

    33% have a member with diabetes

    59% have unpaid medical bills

    55% had at least one member in the household who had been employed in the last year

    35% had at least one member employed in the last four weeks

    In the past year, 73% had to choose between food and utilities, 69% had to choose between food and transportation, 68% had to choose between food and medicine/medical care, 64% had to choose between food and housing, and 31% had to choose between food and education. 

    The role of Florida's food banks

    Your local food banks, as well as the thousands and thousands of food pantries and soup kitchens across the state that make up Florida's emergency food distribution network, are also working around-the-clock to offer solutions for alleviating food insecurity in Florida.

    Many are reaching well beyond their traditional role as "pounds in/pounds out" distribution centers to partner with schools, farms, hospitals, and others. These partnerships increase not only access to food, but access to nutritious, Florida-grown fruits and vegetables. Still others are advocating for policies that will increase resources for vital "wraparound" services that so many low-income individuals need, such as health care, transportation, and affordable housing. 

    So, I urge you this September to get in touch with your local food bank and learn about how you can make a direct contribution to the fight against hunger in our state this month -- and beyond. 

    You can find more information to support hunger action at the following links:

    Feeding America, the nationwide network of food banks, has tons of data. 

    Feeding Florida, formerly known as the Florida Association of Food Banks, has great statewide data. 

    The Food Resource & Action Center has loads of data and reports on SNAP, school meals, afterschool and summer programs, and more. 

    Your local food bank will have county data and, in some cases, can even provide insecurity rates by census tract. 

    (Photos shared with Feeding America network)

    -- David Vaina is the Senior Director of Marketing, Communications & Brand Strategy at Treasure Coast Food Bank. He is also a proud member of the Florida Food Policy Council.

  • 17 Aug 2016 2:24 PM | Deleted user

    I entered an unfamiliar room for the Florida Food Policy Council (FLFPC) meeting last weekend, feeling tired and unsure of what to expect. In an attempt to cure one of my afflictions, I took a leisurely stroll to the complimentary coffee located at the back of the room. During my journey, I studied the faces of those around me. Demographically, nothing could piece the diverse crowd together. 

    "It's such a lovely thing that we all care about the current state of food in Florida," I thought to myself.

    After the caffeine struck, I remembered why I thought food activism is a worthwhile cause in the first place. "It's so lovely that we are all here, trying to make a difference in something that affects everyone," I corrected myself. What followed was an insightful day of brainstorming through sharing human experience. 

    At the start of the meeting, we were all told to share some food memories and dreams. This transformed the personal into political, laying down a theme for the entire meeting. It did not matter that I'm not a farmer or a politician or a restaurant owner. It did not matter that I am young with a spark of interest, but lack formal knowledge. It was clear that my voice mattered in the discussion. I have had experiences with food, therefore I have insight. 

    The perspective I am afforded comes along with being a student who has realized institutional flaws firsthand. From public elementary schools to state colleges and universities, single companies have a monopoly on food. As such, options are limited. Access to food that is simultaneously healthy, affordable, and sustainable is a rarity. Members of learning institutions are not considered with concern; they are treated as customers with a single option -- unhealthy, low-cost food at a high price. When feeding our educators and future generation, the food should be conducive to teaching and learning. 

    Food in schools is one dilemma among many within our current food system. Despite the negativity, I am not saddened. Rather, I am inspired to make sure our current reality does not linger into the future. I am a proud member of the FLFPC because I believe enough passionate people ready to fight the status quo can enact real change. 

  • 16 Aug 2016 2:16 PM | Deleted user

    FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Monday, August 21, 2016

    PRESS CONTACT: Michelle Gomez (850) 766-6505



    ORLANDO, Fla – The newly re-formed Florida Food Policy Council is on a membership tour, setting meetings around the state to encourage participation and highlight local food initiatives. On Sunday, September 11, the tour will make a stop in Orlando, holding its third membership event at East End Market from 12pm to 5pm.

    Clayton Ferrara, the CEO and Executive Director of IDEAS for Us, an Orlando-based organization working in U.S. communities and abroad to solve global environmental issues, will facilitate the meeting. The award-winning organization runs multiple grassroots initiatives that address energy, water, food, waste, and ecology issues through multi-generational education and action. Much like FLFPC organizers are looking to do.

    “We are building a member-driven network,” said Rachel Shapiro, FLFPC Chair and owner of Integrous Health Solutions in Broward County. “This is a grassroots effort to develop a nourishing, inclusive food system for all people in the State of Florida.”

    FLFPC will convene in Orlando immediately following the third annual Florida Food Summit, which takes place September 9th and 10th at East End Market. Also the site of the inaugural summit, East End Market has become an anchor of local food commerce and activism in Central Florida. It is a fitting location for the new push to unite individuals in the statewide effort.

    Stopping first in Fort Myers in April, and then in Tallahassee in July, the all-volunteer council has collected 100 members. Representing many of Florida’s 67 counties and food system sectors, these members are focused on crafting a concerted effort to advance local food policy around the state.

    The Ft. Myers meeting featured food system celebrity Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. In Tallahassee, the meeting was facilitated by local leader Bakari McClendon, who contributed to the Michigan Good Food Charter and serves on the executive team of the North American Food Systems Network.

    Additional membership meetings are planned in Jacksonville and Ft. Lauderdale. The affordable annual fees range from $10 for students to $60 for organizations. Membership includes admission to events throughout the year. More information, including Orlando meeting details and how to join the council, is available at

  • 13 Jul 2016 2:14 PM | Deleted user

    Media Contact:

    Sharon Yeago 352-256-8115

    Rachel Shapiro 954-465-6320


    The Florida Food Policy Council (FFPC) held its 2nd Membership Meeting on Saturday, July 16, 2016, in Tallahassee at the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) Viticulture and Small Fruit Research Center. The event was sponsored by Winter Park Foundation, Health Foundation of South Florida, Florida Blue Foundation, FAMU and the University of Florida, Institute of Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS.) In addition to the Tallahassee site, FFPC members joined via video conference from Collier County Extension Service in Naples.

    The second Membership meeting built on the work done at the first meeting in Ft Myers in April with national food policy expert Mark Winne. This meeting was hosted by Dr. Jennifer Taylor, Program Leader of Florida A&M University’s Statewide Small Farm program. The day was facilitated by Rachel Shapiro, Chair of the Florida Food Policy board of directors and Executive Director of Heal the Planet based in Broward County, and Bakari McClendon, Network Director, Tallahassee Food Network and owner of Uniquely Qualified Consulting of Tallahassee. The group continued to identify key issues about the entire food system in Florida and sought to develop a larger network of interested citizens, advocates, and professionals.

    The Florida Food Policy Council provides an opportunity to participate in the state’s rapidly developing local food movement, supporting efforts to develop more sustainable and just food systems. All segments of the food chain should be represented in these meetings. Membership is required which encourages engagement and helps support the effort.

    The 3rd Membership Meeting of 2016 will be held on Sunday, September 11th, 2016 at 12:30 pm at East End Market, Winter Park, following the Florida Local Food Summit. Details for this event will be announced soon.

    FLFPC Membership is $25 individual, $10 student and $60 small business, which includes admission (either in person or virtual) to our events and other events throughout the year. Please visit to join/register or email for more information.

  • 22 Apr 2016 5:11 PM | Deleted user
  • 28 Mar 2016 5:06 PM | Deleted user

  • 28 Mar 2016 2:10 PM | Deleted user

    This Sunday, Florida will make history with the first member convening of the Florida Food Policy Council in Fort Myers. This meeting follows the UF/IFAS Small Farms and Alternative Enterprises Conference being held April 1-2 at the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport, 9931 Interstate Commerce Drive at Town Center, Fort Myers, Florida. The Food Policy Council convening will be held on Sunday from 9:30am to 3pm.

    The event is sponsored by Winter Park Foundation, Health Foundation of South Florida, Florida Blue Foundation and Heal the Planet and will feature food policy expert Mark Winne, author of Closing the Food Gap: Resetting the Table in the Land of Plenty. Winne will lead the group in solidifying desired goals, identifying the membership and governance process and making the new organization as member-driven and grassroots in character as possible. All segments of the food chain are encouraged to be represented.

    Winne’s efforts will help focus the functions and time frames for development of the emerging council including expectations and roles for its emerging leadership. Members will be invited to enroll in three initial committees to focus the work of the burgeoning council – 1) Organizational development; 2) Communication and outreach; 3) Policy issues, research and assessment.

    Organizations from across Florida expected to be represented include: UF/IFAS, Florida A&M University, University of South Florida, University of North Florida, Greater Marco Family YMCA, Florida Food & Farm, LLC, Urban Oasis Project, Root & Tail Farm, Food Policy Council of Indian River County, Apalachee Food Council, Audubon Community Market/Gather & Grow, LLC, GMO Free Florida, and local Community Redevelopment Agencies.

    The Florida Food Policy Council provides an opportunity to participate in the state’s rapidly developing local food movement, supporting efforts to develop more sustainable and just food systems.

    Membership is $25 which includes admission to this event and other events throughout the year. Lunch will be available for purchase at the event site. Please visit to join and register register for the workshop. Please email for more information.

    The Florida Food Policy Council’s Inaugural Membership Meeting will be held Sunday, April 3, 2016 from 9:30am to 3pm at the Holiday Inn Fort Myers Airport, 9931 Interstate Commerce Drive at Town Center, Fort Myers.

    Contact: SHARON YEAGO: 352-256-8115

  • 20 Mar 2016 4:28 PM | Deleted user

    Some excerpts from Doing Food Policy Councils Right: A Guide to Development and Action, by Michael Burgan and Mark Winne

    The following excerpts are designed to give a sense of work that Food Policy Councils [FPCs] can do and how they are set up. Those coming to the April 3 meeting are encouraged to examine the whole document at:

    What FPCs Do

    We sometimes talk about the three P's of community food system work. The first is projects...The second P is partners...The last P is policy -- and that's where food policy councils come in. Their primary goals include:

    connecting economic development, food security efforts, preservation and enhancement of agriculture, and environmental concerns;

    supporting the development and expansion of locally produced foods;

    reviewing proposed legislation and regulations that affect the food system;

    making recommendations to governing bodies;

    gathering, synthesizing, and sharing information on community food systems.

    Who Serves on a Food Policy Council?

    The most successful food policy councils can say this about their members: They represent all the sectors of the community food system -- production, consumption, processing, distribution, and waste recycling. They have experts on specific aspects of the community's needs...and they have average citizens with a commitment to local food issues. 

    What FPCs Can -- and Can't -- Do

    FPCs have a large role to play in networking, educating others, identifying needs and problems, and offering solutions to food system issues. FPCs do not make policy however; they advise policy makers and government agencies that have policy making power, such as zoning boards. 

    An important function is to cultivate good working relationships with the people who make decisions about the food system. Sometimes that requires bringing different departments together, or showing them how their jurisdiction includes food system concerns...

    An Example: The City of Oakland

    Oakland, California, began forming its food policy council in 2007...The council sought members from all five sectors of the food system [see above] and from "working communities" that included businesses, labor, community organizations, health organizations, and local government. The chosen members served for one, two or three years. Now all new members serve three years. In 2010, the Oakland FPC welcomed its first youth member. The council meets ten times a year. 

    The Governing Structure

    Who serves on a council, what their responsibilities are, and what the council will do can be spelled out a number of ways. Details of the organization's structure and duties...appear in a council's by-laws, though not all councils have by-laws per se. For volunteer or non-incorporated councils, these are sometimes called governance guidelines. 

    [For a primer on food policy council by-laws see:]


    When it comes time to make a food policy council operate, having an effective leader is key. The process that selects the chair and vice chair (or co-chairs) should be intentional. 

    In the formative stages of the FPC, members should appoint a leadership committee to identify several worthwhile candidates to run for the top position. Some key words of advice, based on experience: Don't delay this process!

    Making Decisions, Avoiding Conflict

    Even though the members of food policy councils have a shared committment to food security, they also have diverse backgrounds and experience. Making decisions as a group, in any group, can sometimes test the members' and staff's patience. State food policy councils, according to Food First, rely exclusively on consensus for reaching decisons. 


    Whether or not a food policy council has paid staff and other resources comes down, of course, to money. State FPCs are more apt to receive some government funding than regional or local councils. Most food policy councils count on a mixture of government money, foundation grants, and individual and in-kind donations. 

    Some of the Most Common Topics Food Policies Address:

    Procurement: Getting more locally grown food into local institutions. 

    Land Use: Across the country, communities are seeing local farmland disappear, the victim of unchecked commercial and residential development. Particularly in rural and suburban areas, shaping land use policies that preserve farmland is a major concern. 

    Zoning: If crafting land use policy is long-term, big picture work, creating food system friendly zoning policy is more focused and immediate. Zoning laws can make it easier for urban dwellers to keep a few chickens or raise bees. They can expand land available for growing crops...

    Food Safety and Public Health: Whether it's e. coli, salmonella, or other food-borne pathogens, food producers and consumers are concerned about food safety. Each new outbreak reported in the media only fans that concern...Food policy councils sometimes play a role in educating farmers about best practices to reduce the risk of food contamination or to strengthen laws that regulate food safety. 

  • 11 Mar 2016 4:24 PM | Deleted user

    Check out this article about our upcoming meeting and workshop with Mark Winne.

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