Research has shown that many low-income urban neighborhoods have low quality food resources, and that food prices are often higher in poor areas. At the same time, a disproportionate percentage of Americans suffering from nutrition-related health problems like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes are low-income. - Emily Farr, "Rethinking Urban Poverty: Food and Nutrition in West Philadelphia and Organizations as Agents of Change"It is significant that low-income citizens suffer from some of the highest risks of ill health which is preventable with high-quality nutrition. In Philadelphia, Penn State University has been doing extensive studies of these questions.
“Consider the average income in this neighborhood, a sum of $15,000. Can we change what $15,000 means in our neighborhood?” Yapa asks. “For example, adequate nutritious food is made expensive in this neighborhood, while all the messages and images about nutrition point to fast food. We need to create knowledge about good food. This leads to questions I would pose to the University: Could you produce a literature of urban nutrition? Could you create food co-ops? How can we make it ‘cool’ for young people to have urban gardens? We need to deconstruct and reconstruct the way we think about food to fit the needs of this community. When you start thinking about solutions in this way, the answers are everywhere.” - Dr. Lakshman YapaWhile community gardens and cultural change is important, it is less an issue in places like Loudoun than in cities like Philadelphia. Poverty in Loudoun means a more distributed and less visible population in need of consideration. But this population has the same health issues and income limitations which drive poor nutrition in major cities.
An idea which has been gaining ground in other cities, and which may be worth considering in Loudoun, is ensuring food stamps are valid at farmers' markets. There is a federal program which exists to promote this very idea, and the state of Virginia receives over $320,000 from it. The Virginia Department of Health administers the program in Virginia, but none of the participating Farmers Markets listed there were in Loudoun. (No doubt, this subject will come up at the poverty symposium planned for later this month.)
The Leesburg Farmers Market is held within a decent walk from some of the areas in the greatest need of help. (Heck, the Leesburg Trolley runs right there for $0.50!) If arrangements were made for WIC payments to be accepted at the Leesburg Farmers Market, and that information communicated to our neighbors who can make the best use of it, we may make a small dent in the health risks faced by our neighbors living below the poverty line.
This is a win-win-win for our community. Our neighbors in need win by gaining access to better nutrition through a program with which they are already familiar. Our farmers win by gaining more local customers for their crops. And Loudoun County's budget wins because at least some of the funding for this program should be available from the state (Fairfax County and Arlington use it, after all).