By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter
Initiatives that improve the ability of socially disadvantaged families to obtain local produce are sorely needed, say US researchers.
James Farmer (Indiana University, Bloomington), who presented two abstracts at the American Public Health Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California, USA, reported that access to good-quality local foods is largely restricted to wealthy, "privileged" individuals.
The number of farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture programs (CSAs), which allow people to have a regular supply of fresh produce from a specific farm for a fee typically ranging from US$ 250-700 (€ 193-539), has increased dramatically in the USA in recent years, and have been suggested as a major mechanism for improving food security and quality for underprivileged populations across the country.
However, surveys and interviews of people attending farmers' markets (321 surveyed; 25 interviewed) and CSAs (274 surveyed; 13 interviewed) show that the majority of current customers are White (90.6-95.3%), earn above average incomes (36.6-62.4% above $ 75,000 [€ 57,796]), and have a high education level (62.2-85.6% Bachelor's degree or above).
Notably, members of a CSA were more likely to be White, higher paid, and have a Bachelor's degree or above than those attending farmers' markets.
"Our findings present a need for broadening local food opportunities beyond the privileged, higher-income consumer, through alternative payment plans and strategic efforts that make fresh foods accessible to a diversity of people," said Farmer in a press statement.
He explained that alternative payment methods for CSAs and farmers markets do exist, but need to be more extensively used.
For example, an increasing number of farmers' markets accept Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children vouchers and other government assistance for food alternatives. Meanwhile, some CSAs have incorporated payment installment plans and work-exchange programs, with a small number providing a sliding payment scale.
Another factor that Farmer believes will help improve the access of minority and underprivileged families to these sources of food would be increasing the number of farmers' markets and CSAs in neighborhoods or areas with a low-income.
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