August 13, 2014
As a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight and Nutrition, I constantly engage in efforts to promote healthier eating habits and better nutrition for Americans. One such way is through the promotion of farmers’ markets and urban gardens. Ranking 4th in the nation in the number of farmers’ markets, Ohio is a leader in encouraging consumption of locally grown foods. This is wonderful news, but there is still great potential for growth. With 17,000 vacant lots covering 33,000 acres of land in Cleveland alone, there are plenty of opportunities in our district to create urban farms. As many of our residents know, these plots attract crime and blight, and could instead be transformed into beautiful gardens that grow fresh produce. Urban gardens bring fresh fruits and vegetables into the heart of neighborhoods that are underserved by full service food retailers. They make it easier to eat healthy on a budget. Providing greater access to healthy foods helps our district in the fight against obesity and poor nutrition, creating healthier communities overall. The benefits of urban gardens, however, are not limited to nutrition, as urban gardens create more local jobs and stimulate the local economy. Assistance programs help to ensure that the benefits of farmers’ markets and urban gardens are available to all members of the community. For example, eligible households can stretch their buying power at farmer’s markets through the Produce Perks Incentive Program. For those who receive SNAP benefits (food stamps) and use an Ohio Direction Card, the program matches dollar-for-dollar every dollar spent (up to $10) on fresh produce. For example, if you spend $10, you would receive $20 worth of food items. There are 21 markets participating in Produce Perks in Cuyahoga County. For a list and more information, please visit the Cleveland-Cuyahoga County Food Policy Coalition’s website at www.cccfoodpolicy.org. In addition, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program provides coupons to eligible seniors to be used at participating farmers’ markets and roadside stands. With the coupons, seniors can purchase fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey. To find out if you are eligible and to enroll in the program, please call (216) 621-8010 ext. 113 (Cuyahoga County) or (330) 899-5229 (Summit County). In the Euclid area, I’m pleased to see that interest in growing healthy foods for the benefit of others continues to grow. The city of Euclid is currently seeking applicants for a future urban garden at St. Robert’s Market Garden. If you are interested in becoming a tenant of the garden and have experience with urban gardens, please visit www.cityofeuclid.com/announcements/231 or contact my office at (216) 522-4900. As important as fresh, wholesome food is to our nutrition, clean water is certainly just as important. We were reminded of what a precious commodity our water supply is with the recent emergency in Toledo. For nearly three days, residents were unable to drink or cook with water that was contaminated by a toxin create by a build-up of algae in Lake Erie. Although the crisis is over for now, contamination to our water supply due to algal blooms could occur again. Lake Erie provides drinking water to 11-million people so it is crucial that actions be taken to protect it. That is why I am a strong supporter of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI). The GLRI serves to protect and maintain the Great Lakes, and I will continue to support greater funding for its projects. For example, to prevent the formation of harmful algal blooms in the Great Lakes, the GLRI has made reducing phosphorus runoff a top priority in three watersheds, including one in Ohio. Phosphorus flows into the lake as a byproduct of fertilizers used in large farms. This chemical in turn promotes the growth of algae. One of the projects funded by that Initiative is currently examining the impact of excess phosphorus in western Lake Erie to our district’s water quality in central Lake Erie. With greater understanding of the impact of harmful algal blooms, more direct steps can be taken to prevent their formation in our water. I will continue to monitor this issue closely.
Have a good week everyone.