Tree-Hugging Dirt Worship

July 18, 2012

Food Stamps for Independence

Over 46 million Americans use food stamps (or SNAP or EBT, also called the Bridge Card in Michigan), or over 15% of us. I think that you could say that the program has grown beyond a “safety net” function and become “life support for the rest of the economy.”

And what is the nature of that food-stamp-dependent economy? It seeks to rip off the rest of the world à la the United Fruit company, and then redistribute some of the spoils according to a humane, human welfare model. How can we support multinational companies exploiting all of the people and resources of the world and yet stay comfortable and well fed at home? Equilibrium will be restored, by jobs leaving the country, immigrants sneaking in, or by the financial powers that be putting us in the austerity sights. An EBT that is basically helping its user buy into the corporate food chain is supporting not only fruit company plantation imperialism, but also Monsanto, and Monsanto’s biological weapons, beehive death, and the degradation of the world into sterile salt flats. On the other hand, an American family gets to eat for another month, which is no small thing.

Food stamps don’t have to support imperial trade practices or shitty farming. SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, has a couple of neat wrinkles in it that promote independence, particularly independence from the abusive corporate food chain. Firstly, food stamps can be used to buy fruit and vegetable seeds wherever they are accepted (as at a grocery store with a rack of seeds). Secondly, Michigan residents can receive bonus tokens for spending their Bridge Card money at various local produce markets. It’s as if someone has been listening to Michelle Obama.

Food stamps could buy seeds since 1973, yet the fact has not been much publicized. Senator James Allen of Alabama explained at the time:

The recipients of food stamps would thus be able to use their own initiative to produce fruits and vegetables needed to provide variety and nutritional value for their diets.

While this amendment does broaden the definition of food items which may be purchased with food stamp coupons, I would expect that the food stamp recipients would be able to purchase the seeds and plants they need from grocery stores who are now participating in the food stamp program.

I would not expect the Department of Agriculture to undertake the administrative costs of certifying those thousands of additional stores to supply the seeds and plants that food stamp recipients might wish to purchase.

The amendment would allow the food stamp recipient to purchase with his food stamps seeds and plants for the purpose of growing food  for consumption by himself and his household.

It would allow a person to buy  $1 or $2 worth of seed or vegetable plants and possibly have available a plot of land and be able to raise $50 or $100 worth of food for himself and his family.

It would encourage industry on the part of the food stamp recipient and it would be at no cost to the Federal Government.

Now, Senator Allen left out the best part. If someone raises $100 worth of vegetables from $2 of seeds, they’ve just denied the corporate food chain $98. SNAP Gardens is an organization promoting food stamp gardens, and providing information to gardeners. I suggest SNAP non-recipients visit the page to absorb some of its enthusiasm.

The idea of being independent of the Ugliness Economy doesn’t mean everyone must become an atomized individual sewing their own clothes from thread they spun themselves from a sheep they fed from their own garden. Clearly people need to support each other, with gifts, barter, and fair, localized commerce.

In Michigan, some farmer’s markets have a Bridge Card tent where you swipe your card, and then the cashier tells you that the card won’t scan, so you stand there and ask them to manually punch your number in (well, that’s how my Bridge Card worked after a couple of months). Anyways, they give you tokens representing food stamp money to spend at the other booths. And the cool bit is, they double your money up to $20 per day. The program is called Double Up Food Bucks, and if you follow the link you’ll find a list of participating markets. (Thanks, Wilfrid Cyrus, for pointing this one out to me.) These markets are much nicer places to spend money in than, say, Walmart. Other states may have similar programs — for instance, in Rhode Island, you can spend WIC credits at farmer’s markets.

I would love to see a Homesteader Card program, which would give out money for soil, fertilizer, planters, fencing, homebrew gear and all of the other good stuff that allows people to take care of their own household needs. Since that would undermine growth of “the marketplace” — people would get used to getting $100 of vegetables for only $2 — the government would never do such a thing. Oh, well. In the meantime, SNAP gardens and Double Up Food Bucks can still be used to undermine the Ugliness Economy.

Garden for victory!





  1. That homestead card is a great idea! I like the idea of issuing all sorts of government funded product specific cards. Like with WIC you can only buy certain things at certain times. The government wheels and deals prices, gets a better price for the guarantee of billions of dollars in sales, and we get stuff for being guinea pigs in their giant product placement advertisement. I have heard of countries going as far as issuing entertainment cards.

    I worry about the bridge card program flooding money into the corpo-food market. I mean bridge card IS flooding money into the food market in general. But it is up to the people what they buy. The organic store and farmers market both take EBT in my neighborhood. I think lots of local brands have been brought from obscurity into fruition because of the giant money stream running through the grocery store market, which is gushing over with government money coming in from the top and bottom. If there ever was a way to inject a “homemade” product into the mainstream a distribution deal with spartan stores wouldn’t hurt… With my bridge card I ALWAYS get the more local, more indie, more organic, high end, more likely to pay their laborers fairly companies. Compared to without a bridge card I only bought Kraft, Campbells, Nabisco… Kogels. Whatever was the absolute cheapest way to eat. With bridge card I’m able to be the “responsible shopper” my broke ass could never afford to be.

    Comment by wilfridcyrus — July 18, 2012 @ 6:52 pm

    • I’m glad that the card helps you have enough to buy decent stuff. That wasn’t my experience — it seems like most people on assistance are still damn near broke. I hope, too, that many people have the sense to buy decent stuff when they have the means. For instance: why do I see nice cars at Kroger?
      Well, a little more food money at least gives people options.

      Comment by paragardener — July 19, 2012 @ 2:49 am

      • Well I am still damn near broke, but a long ways from where I was 3 years ago before uncle sam started emergency managing my life. I have been heavily subsidized recently and it feels like perfect justice to me. I think more bottom up government programs will help shift the market, but also increase consumption, which to a lot of people is good. Alongside the narrative of Radical Homemakers, who encourage us to opt out of the extractive economy, government cards are only feeding into the market based consumer system. Government funding isn’t extractive though im bringing that bailout money closer and closer to home by using it with that intended purpose. I think the consumer economy is inevitable, and ultimately the way we will use to popularize smarter products. Am i wrong to see value in mass production? Maybe I am, maybe the machine is the worst thing the happen to humankind and we should be doing it all by hand.

        Comment by wilfridcyrus — July 19, 2012 @ 8:44 am

  2. You could fight the endless uphill battle to have corporations act as if they have the public interest in mind, despite being legally bound to serve shareholders and shareholders only. It’s probably worth it as regarding iPads and the like. However, in agriculture, mass production is only efficient in the sense of reducing labor, not in terms of using land or other inputs. Billions of little gardens will really feed the billions, even when markets are kaput:

    “Shortly before the Soviet Union’s collapse, it became known informally that the ten percent of farmland allocated to kitchen gardens (in meager tenth of a hectare plots) accounted for some 90 percent of domestic food production.” — Dmitry Orlov

    Comment by paragardener — July 21, 2012 @ 1:53 am

  3. Warning, though — Gardens may be illegal (or, what happened in Oak Park can happen anywhere):

    Comment by mike — July 23, 2012 @ 2:57 pm

  4. so if i have 32 trillion dollars on my bridge card and i go spend it all down at meijer…

    Comment by wilfridcyrus — July 24, 2012 @ 11:59 pm

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