When I first lost my job, we applied for emergency food assistance. Then, when I saw how little was provided for our family of five, I went into panic mode and bought the cheapest stuff I could find: a coffin-sized crate of ramen noodle packages, a box of Cheerios as big as an ottoman. No longer did I shop for the “best”—organic, free range, all natural—I was now shopping for the cheapest.

And I was not alone in trying to negotiate this shift from affluent foodie to poverty-level mom just trying to feed her family on next to nothing. Take a look at the numbers and be startled along with me. As you can see, there was an unprecedented jump in participants in the program after the Great Recession in 2008 began. Suddenly, families who were unaccustomed to financial struggle joined the ranks of the truly needy, and we didn’t know how to shop for it! And still, after a few years of this “New Poor” culture, we are looked at with derision when we try to maintain our values as careful consumers and healthy eaters.

Thankfully, however, there are ways to make a mountain (of produce) out of a molehill (of money.) Read more

This week is National Farmers Market Week. Time for fresh corn, tomatoes and berries at your local farmers market, which now are as American as baseball and apple pie. In the past fifteen years, the number of markets has almost quadrupled to nearly 6,000. Americans annually spend $1.3 billion at farmers markets, according to Farmers Market Coalition estimates.

Business associations adore farmers markets because they revitalize depressed downtowns, bringing shoppers into otherwise ignored areas. Communities love them because they turn a parking lot or empty city street into a colorful and festive weekly commons where friends and neighbors can meet and linger. Farmers frequent them because they can capture 100 percent of the retail value of their products, helping revive a flagging small farm economy.

Yet, there is one group that has been excluded from the benefits of farmers markets: food stamp recipients. Read more