RUSKIN – A Ruskin farm is helping low-income families stretch their limited food budgets by offering half off fresh fruits and vegetables during the month of August.
Terrie and John Lawson, owners of Hydro Harvest Farms, 1101 Shell Point Road E., Ruskin, are hosting the second annual Food Bucks Double Up for SNAP program to raise awareness that their EBT cards provided by the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, can be used at farm stands and farmer’s markets.
At the same time the Lawsons hope to help low-income families put more fresh food on their dinner tables.
“It’s not an original idea,” Terrie Lawson said. “There are many organizations around the country that have been doing it. The federal government has really been pushing farmer’s markets and farm stands to accept SNAP payments. The new farm bill now in Congress will give the Department of Agriculture grant money for farm stands and markets throughout the country to sell produce to SNAP recipients at discounted prices.”
The Lawsons, however, are funding their program without the help of a government grant.
“We just thought it would be a great idea to offer these families fresh fruits and vegetables at a reduced cost during the summer, when they have additional food costs because the kids aren’t getting breakfast and lunch at school,” said Lawson. “We always have an abundance of produce in August. The kids can come and pick their own vegetables and learn where food comes from. Kids love to pick their own food. It opens a whole new world for them.”
Lawson said the federal food stamp program was originally intended to encourage low-income families to purchase food directly from farmers.
“But when payments went electronic in 1984, the big grocery store chains got involved and pushed out the farmers who couldn’t afford to install the electronic equipment,” she said. “Now people think they can only use SNAP (EBT cards) at the grocery store.”
Unfortunately, families tend to purchase cheaper processed foods at the grocery store, she said.
“At the grocery store, they see lettuce selling for $3.99 so they try to stretch their dollar by buying cheap foods with no nutrition, like macaroni and cheese,” she said. “They don’t realize they can use their SNAP cards at farm stands and farmer’s markets, where the produce is fresher and less expensive.”
By offering the 50 percent discount in August to SNAP recipients, Lawson said she also hopes to encourage families to improve their diets.
“We want to give people access to locally grown food and let people know they can afford to eat good, nutritional food,” she said.
During August, families are able to pick their own black-eyed peas, purple whole peas, Swiss chard, peppers, lettuce, okra, herbs, scallions and beets at Hydro Harvest Farms and pay half price. In addition, SNAP recipients will pay half price for produce sold at the Hydro Harvest Farms stand, including corn, tomatoes, Florida sweet onions, potatoes, watermelon, cantaloupe, avocados, mangoes and pineapple.
For those unfamiliar with ways to prepare certain fruits and vegetables, the Lawsons publish a monthly newsletter containing tips and recipes.
“And when I’m around, I’m always happy to suggest ways to use produce,” Lawson said.
Last year about 80 families took advantage of the farm’s Food Bucks Double Up for SNAP program.
“It was a great experience,” she said. “And when people heard we were funding the program without any government help, they started dropping off donations. It was amazing.”
The Lawsons opened their farm eight years ago. All of their produce is grown hydroponically – without soil – and is chemical free.
“There’s no other farm like it in Florida,” said Lawson. “We grow what’s in season year round.”
SNAP recipients can take advantage of the Food Bucks Double Up for SNAP program Aug. 1 to 31. Hours are Wednesday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To sign up for Hydro Harvest Farms newsletter, visit www.hydroharvestfarms.com or call (813) 645-6574.
D’Ann Lawrence White is a freelance writer who can be reached at [email protected]