Lincoln -- Heartening news from Lincoln: the Healthy Food Access Kitchen is about to open.
Funded by the local Community Health Endowment, it will prepare nutritious food for the city's most vulnerable children and distribute it through the caterer Kinder Bites. And it will prepare healthy food for those of all ages in Lincoln's neediest neighborhoods through Lincoln Fresh, operated by the Lincoln Food Bank.
According to the Lincoln JournalStar, a local and regional healthy food marketer will soon be sharing space with the new Food Access Kitchen:
"A second business, Lone Tree Foods, will also utilize the space to wash, prep and package locally produced foods (including produce, dairy and meats) for distribution to customers such as schools, hospitals and other retail locations. This partnership will not only result in greater circulation of locally sourced produce, but also support business growth opportunities for local farmers and decrease food waste."
This is great news. Schools, hospitals, and retail locations will start getting more locally sourced produce. (Hospitals especially need it.) Nebraska farmers will have new markets for their produce, dairy, and meat. All this will stimulate market business opportunities and jobs.
Question: Could this scale up and spread to other cities? Answer: Yes, with seed money.
An appropriate source for scaling up would be within the USDA budget, at little or no additional cost to taxpayers. The current federal SNAP (food stamp) program is incredibly wasteful and counterproductive to its own mission, in that billions in SNAP dollars are spent annually by recipients on processed junk foods, especially sugared soft drinks. Ironically, SNAP is partly responsible for the nation's obesity and diabetes epidemics. Other USDA programs, like WIC, do not permit use of federal dollars for the purchase of self-destructive products, so such a limitation would bring consistency to federal policy.
The resulting SNAP savings could be moved within the USDA budget to programs that promote the development of local and regional healthy food markets.
State and local elected officials in states like Nebraska, where the rural economy badly needs new markets and where nutrition-related diseases are epidemic, should be getting behind efforts like those now being set in motion by Lincoln's Community Health Endowment. And elected officials should be demanding changes to USDA budget priorities so as to help fund a movement toward "Healthy Foods, Healthy Markets."