As Congress debates whether to trim the food stamps budget as part of the massive Farm Bill reauthorization, lawmakers might want to consider this striking statistic from a new W.K. Kellogg Foundation survey: Three-quarters of Americans say they support a national program that would double Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or food stamp) benefits at farmers markets.
“It’s a wonderful sign of the increasing level of empathy,” says Gail Christopher, vice president for program strategy for the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. It’s an acknowledgment, she adds, that “the health of others could have an impact on their lives as well.”
The Kellogg survey of 800 American adults unearthed some other, arguably, surprising statistics about the country’s attitudes about fresh fruits and vegetables — and the people who harvest them. Approximately 88 percent of respondents would strongly or partly agree to pay $1.50 more per month if it guaranteed that farm workers would be paid a fair wage.
What’s more, 70 percent of respondents said they have purchased fresh produce from a farmers market or stand in the past year (although only 14 percent use this source as their regular outlet for fruits and vegetables). And more than 68 percent of those surveyed say they eat more whole grains, fruits and vegetables than they did five years ago.
These findings would appear to underscore the success of various organizations, progressive school districts, environmentalists, activist chefs, good food advocates and writers, and first lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! campaign in spreading the gospel about local produce, fresh fruits and vegetables and more healthful diets. The message is clearly sinking in with the American public.
And yet, it’s hard to know exactly how far attitudes have shifted among Americans, notes Christopher, given that the Kellogg Foundation has not conducted any earlier surveys similar to this one. The best comparison Kellogg has, she said, is a 15-year-old survey “asking about the notion of a food system.”
“People didn’t even know what a food system was” then, Christopher says. “We’re pretty certain that this [new survey] represents a change over the past decade or more.”
Among the survey’s other findings:
* 63 percent of respondents say they know a lot or a little about where their fresh fruits and vegetables come from.
* 89 percent say their source for fresh fruits and vegetables is within walking distance or is a short drive away.
* 45 percent say they acquired fresh fruits and/or vegetables from their own garden within the past year.
* 93 percent say they think it’s “very important” or “somewhat important” to “make sure all Americans have equal access to fresh fruits and vegetables.”
* 64 percent say it’s “very important” that produce be grown in an “environmentally friendly way.”
* 64 percent say it’s “very important” or “somewhat important” that produce be organic.
* And finally, in another response that lawmakers might ponder as they reauthorize the Farm Bill, 83 percent of those surveyed strongly or partly agree that “Washington, D.C., should shift its support more toward smaller, local fruit and vegetable farmers and away from large farm businesses.”
Could that have ramifications for Big Ag subsidies?
All of this should come as welcome news for the organizations, activists and leaders who gather today in Asheville, N.C., for the Kellogg Foundation’s Food & Community Conference, which works to provide access to good food and physical activity for all communities. The poll results will be announced as part of the conference’s opening day.
The survey was conducted by Lauer Johnson Research from April 18-22 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percent.