Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why call it SNAP?

If you’re paying attention to the news, you’re bound to hear something about Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), and for good reason – this September alone over 46 million people used the program. That accounts for 1/7 Americans. The program has never been this big before.

I am among one of the newer beneficiaries of SNAP. I have been on the program for over a year now and at the same time I’ve been working on food related issues as part of the Food Council development and food systems improvement. It’s been interesting to hear the different takes on such a widely used and hotly contested program from which I benefit.

At first I felt like I was cheating the system a little bit: I work (even though it’s for little pay), I have a family that is willing to provide assistance if needed, and I don’t find myself starving. According to statistics, my situation is no exception, it’s the norm. Working households are the normal demographic of SNAP beneficiaries. Since the early 90’s the profile of a typical beneficiary has shifted from the majority being nonworking households to working households. In fact, today there are nearly three times as many working households using SNAP as there are nonworking households (

How did that happen? Well, I’m really no expert, but from what I can tell this demographic shift had much to do with President Clinton’s Welfare Reform in the mid 90’s. President Clinton at the time was trying to cut Cash Aid so as to end dependency on Federal Assistance that had been around since the New Deal. Through Washington politics, the Food Stamp program was mixed into the legislation (Food Stamps were not previously considered a Welfare program). Of course, the new law didn’t completely drop Cash Aid or the Food Stamp program, but the programs became stricter and more rigid (

Eligibility requirements and the direct management of the programs became the responsibilities of State governments. This is why different states can have different eligibility factors. Some states take into account personal assets while others don’t.

The new legislation brought about a shift in outreach to the working poor. This shift started with President Clinton and was expanded by President Bush, later to be fully embraced by President Obama. Originally it was (and generally is still called) Food Stamps, but to reflect the changes in the philosophy of the program, it is now known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. This reflects the shift in focus from a full Welfare system to supplemental nutrition assistance. Rather than seeking to fully support a family, the program helps a family get by.

I’m not sure that this change is well known or well understood. From what I can tell from reactions I read in articles online and from news interviews, most Americans believe that the majority of SNAP participants are a bunch of lazy people that don’t work and completely rely on the program. While this may or may not have been true thirty years ago, the statistics prove its different today. Most Americans on the program are people in situations like mine. They don’t earn quite enough, and need an extra boost to carry them through. MSNBC had a good story on people who use SNAP today. You should check it out:

I am putting together a series of posts by guest bloggers over the next couple of weeks to highlight their experience and knowledge of how the program works and influences the lives of its clients. I hope you enjoy the articles and it spikes up some debate. If you have any specific questions, concerns, or opinions please feel free to leave a comment.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Support Crescent Elk students, buy a rosemary wreath!

Crescent Elk Middle School is not only home to our mighty Cougars, it has a popular and fun Garden Club.

The club is hosted by Seventh Grade Science teacher Joe Gillespie that pulls from years of experience as an avid gardener and lover of nature. It is a real treat to go down the Middle School and see all the youth so excited about caring for the vegetables and flowers, and trying new gardening practices.

The garden is a well known cornerstone of the school. Just last year, Crescent Elk’s garden was able to produce 30 pounds of broccoli that was served at lunch throughout the school district. But if you were to go to the garden, you would see that isn’t broccoli, lettuce, or chard that make up the majority of the garden. Proud and beautiful rosemary bushes adorn the back and outer perimeter of the garden granting the garden a pleasant aroma and a good wind breaker.

“Why so much rosemary?” you might ask. One reason: because the Garden Club wants to save the world.

Every winter, the Garden Club trims back the Rosemary bushes to create these beautiful rosemary wreaths which they sell to school district employees and the community at large.

The donations do not go to the Garden, but instead to Heifer International. Heifer International works to empower impoverished communities by giving families livestock such as sheep or a goat. In small, rural, impoverished areas of the world, livestock are a true commodity. Livestock serves two purposes: to help end hunger and empower economies. Agricultural goods are still currency, and so by buying a $150 Llama (for example) you are giving a family and community a way to trade, live, and provide for their young ones. If you wish to learn more about Heifer International, please visit their website:

So, make time today, go to Crescent City Ray’s between 3:30pm and 6pm and support the Garden Club. Buy a wreath, and help a family have a means to support itself this next year. $15 goes pretty far in our world!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

A Guide for the Winter

One of the most frequent questions I'm asked is "When do I plant this vegetable?"  Followed closely by "How do I grow this vegetable?"  Being Community Garden Coordinator for Community Assistance Network, I'm expected to actually have answers to those questions.  And with a long enough title, people expect you to have a better answer than "Put it in the ground and see what happens," which is what I usually tell myself when I'm thinking about gardening.

The short answer to both of those questions, as well as many other questions about gardening, is that it all depends.  How close are you to the coast?  When is your last winter frost?  Are you growing in a greenhouse?  How much space do you have?  Most people accumulate answers to these questions over years of gardening and working with plants; truly, one of the most fun and exciting aspects of gardening is experimenting and playing around with the idea of "put it in the ground and see what happens," until you have a good sense of what grows best where.

While it is a lot of fun to try to grow as many different crops as you can, planting them in different ways at different times, it's very helpful to have a guide that shows you the optimal times and practices for your region.  Working from a planting guide, along with a planting calendar, you can begin to grasp how different plants have different life cycles; in a way, you begin to understand the parameters for what it takes to grow a certain crop.  Once you know the optimal conditions, you're free to experiment with those parameters and figure out how far you can push an early planting or beets, or how many successions of peas you can get through one season.

With that in mind, I created a planting calendar and a planting guide for the Del Norte coastal region.  These resources will be available to all of CAN's community gardeners; as well as anyone who reads this blog!  Both the calendar and the guide are lifted heavily from the book "The Humboldt Kitchen Gardener" by Humboldt County farmer Eddie Tanner, with modifications and tips based on my own experience gardening and my time at Ocean Air Farms.  Eddie Tanner's book, as well as seed catalogs like Territorial Seeds, and of course the internet, are all great resources to learn more about gardening in our climate.

And remember, these are just guides; take them as a general guideline for when you can do your gardening and what you can grow, and then have fun trying new things with your crops.  Both the calendar and the guide are written for coastal gardening; if you live more inland in places like Gasquet or the Klamath Glen, you can get away with planting warm-season crops outdoors, instead of in greenhouses.

Planting Guide