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    Fresh and Healthy Food for All

    philCalifornia is the state with the richest agricultural diversity and greatest bounty, boasting more than 400 varieties of fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other commodities. Yet, nearly fifteen percent of our households face inadequate access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food.

    Despite today’s economic boom, nearly one-third of residents in my hometown of San Francisco face food insecurity. While income inequality and poverty are key factors, another challenge is that many parts of the city are food deserts—places where affordable, fresh produce are not accessible.

    Recognizing that diet is the foundation for good health, I authored legislation last year to expand access to healthy food for low-income families by harnessing the power of our local farmers markets. My Assembly Bill (AB) 1321 established the California Nutrition Incentives Act. It doubles the purchasing power for families participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—the federal food stamps program—when they buy fresh fruit and vegetables at local farmers markets. By expanding access to healthy choices, we can put nutrition back at the center of this nutrition benefit program.

    I’m pleased to say that the 2016–17 state budget includes $5 million to boost implementation of the new law and to compete for federal dollars geared for the same purpose.

    Bay Area non-profit organizations pioneered food incentives through the Market Match program, which “matches” or doubles the amount of funds that SNAP families can spend at more than 250 farmers markets across California. Last year, the Market Match program allowed farmers to receive $2.5 million more in revenue and served more than 130,000 customers. Overall, the program has increased participation in nutrition benefit programs at participating markets up to 700 percent. As a result of the program, 69 percent of local farmers selling their produce at farmers markets report that they have new and loyal customers.

    One of the most successful Market Match programs operates at the Heart of the City Farmers Market in downtown San Francisco. Since its launch of Market Match last June, more than $265,000 incentives to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables have been distributed. Food stamp or SNAP-related sales have grown by 35 percent.

    Other farmers markets taking advantage of this great program are the Mission Community Market in San Francisco, the Jack London Square Farmers Market in Oakland, and the Main Street Farmers Market in Richmond. The Market Match program is so in demand that, unfortunately, not everyone can take advantage of it because the available funding runs out. A program this great calls for a greater investment, and that’s why the state made a major investment in programs like Market Match.

    By bringing healthy and nutritious food to neighborhoods with few grocery options, we can harness the power of California’s network of 700 certified farmers markets to get people excited to try new foods and to eat right. We would enable millions more Californians to shop at farmers markets, see healthier communities, and boost our local farming economies. That is an exciting path where California will continue to lead the nation.

    Phil Ting represents the 19th Assembly District, which includes the Westside of San Francisco along with the communities of Broadmoor, Colma, Daly City, and South San Francisco.