Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Summer Must Be Over

Because today I had to say farewell to our local farmer's market. It was bittersweet because I also learned that this season NYC food stamp users received more than $200,000 in special coupons for fresh produce from the markets. Why do all good things have to come to an end?

There's a hopeful program here called Health Bucks. Since 2006, the number of farmer's markets receiving these coupons has increased from 29 to 60 throughout the city. According to this NYC Health Press Release, it seems that the expense of fresh produce can be offset with the coupon program:
"The Health Bucks increase the value of food stamp benefits by 40 percent when redeemed at participating farmers' markets in New York City. Whenever a customer spends $5 in food stamp benefits at a participating market, the customer receives a $2 Health Bucks redeemable for fresh fruit and vegetables.
There are more than 1.7 million people in NYC who participate in the food stamp program. Sometimes I complain about not having access to food I want in the Bronx (e.g. canned pumpkin), but honestly we have everything we need here. The choices are just difficult. What do you say to your husband who can be perfectly satisfied with a slice of pizza for $2.50 every night? Although it would add up over time, the immediate decision of convenience and low cost surely keep the corner bodegas and street stands open year round.

I stood in line behind a woman in La Super Tienda Del Bronx today as she had the cashier subtract groceries one-by-one until the total cost equaled the stack of one and ten dollar bills she had in her hand. I've been in her shoes, but not because I was budgeting.

Exposure to a different way of eating and shopping has been both frustrating and delightful the past few months. The grocery store closest to our house surprises me with advertisements like: "Spend $150 and get a free pork shoulder" or "plantains $.25 if you buy 20". If I'm shocked and I'm only shopping for two, how much more rich does that deal become when shopping for six? How much more valuable is that entire pork shoulder compared to $2 of carrot sicks?

Small side note: If I'm willing to make grocery shopping a two-hour trip, I can walk about 25 minutes to Little Italy for fresh bakeries, cheese shops and an indoor Italian market. I feel great about shopping there. Although things are more expensive the people are friendly, the shops are clean and the music is played at a reasonable volume, the food is fresh and the selection (on cheese, pasta and olives of course) is expansive. I often make this trip. I know I'm fortunate to be able to do so.

Things will have to change in December. Either my grocery commute will increase (there are several yearlong markets in Manhattan) or I'll have to learn to appreciate imported fruits and frozen vegetables. Regardless, I will thank God I have the choice.

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