Tuesday, January 31, 2017


The conservative think tank, the American Enterprise Institute, observes that a large body of research shows that SNAP reduces poverty, improves food security among low-income households, and has positive effects on infant health and long-term benefits for children. It also finds SNAP to be fairly efficient. In FY 2014, the error rate (that is, the percentage of dollars that go to ineligible house- holds or get over- or underpaid) was extremely low at 3.66%, and 99% of households that received benefits were eligible. In addition, 92% of spending is for benefits that go directly into households, with only 8% supporting administrative and other efforts.

Source: American Enterprise Institute, 1/25/17, SNAP Reforms

Monday, January 30, 2017

GardenShare Growing Community Award

Congratulations to the Local Living Venture, the recipient of GardenShare's 2016 Growing Community Award.  Each year GardenShare recognizes an individual or organization whose efforts strengthen food security in northern New York State with the Growing Community Award.  Past recipients have included farmers, food service staff, a food bank, community groups, and others.  Individuals, families, or organizations who are making progress in solving the problem of hunger through policy and advocacy work or by building a stronger food system to better serve all North Country residents may be nominated for this recognition. 
Local Living Venture is a non-profit responsible for spreading knowledge throughout the community regarding affordable and sustainable solutions that local people can implement in their daily lives. They are especially concerned with local food, clean energy, northern forest, green building, simple living and homesteading skills. Through hands-on, learning workshops LLV implements healthy and low-cost living styles for community members as well as strengthening local community ties.  
Jan /Dewaters, left, presents to award to the Local Living Venture team.
In nominating Local Living Venture for this award, GardenShare Board member Jan DeWaters wrote, "Since they first formed out of the North Country Sustainable Energy Fair in 2009, this group has emerged as a leading authority in all-things-back-to-basics. By offering a wide array of educational programming, as well as a number of community gathering events, they are filling a need here for teaching people important, often-forgotten skills our ancestors practiced on a daily basis, and are also bringing people together to join in community as they venture forth with putting their newly-learned skills into practice. To me, this group is a unique and valuable piece of our north country community building effort." 
At the same event, GardenShare honored the St. Lawrence University Environmental Studies Department, who hosted GardenShare's offices from 2009 until 2016.  Without their support, with facilities, services, and many talented interns over the years, GardenShare would not begin to have accomplished all we have in our history.
Gloria McAdam, far right, along with Aviva Gold and Carlene Doane, left,
present a recognition to Carrie Johns, Environmental Studies Department Chair.
Professors David Murphy and Glenn Harris are in the back row.
Than you to everyone who attended and was part of the this event in any way.  More photos can be found here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017


Low-income families were more likely to use their SNAP benefits on nutritious food after learning that their dollars can be doubled for more fruits and vegetables, according to another article in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.  A University of Michigan-led team conducted five-minute conversations in the waiting room of a health clinic. They explained a program called Double Up Food Bucks that matches food assistance dollars spent on fruits and vegetables. This brief interaction prompted increased fruit and vegetable consumption and led to an almost four-fold increase in program use among families. Double Up, run by national nonprofit Fair Food Network, is now available at more than 200 farmers markets, grocery stores, and other retail outlets across Michigan. Up to $20 in SNAP funds spent per market visit are matched with free Double Up Food Bucks that can be used to purchase fresh, locally grown fruits and vegetables. Fruit and vegetable consumption increased among study participants by almost two-thirds of a serving per day - with the greatest increases among those who used Double Up the most.

Source:, 1/19/17, ER Advice Works

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

SNAP and sugary drinks - more to the story

The New York Times recently reported on a new USDA study of SNAP participants’ food buying patterns. The findings show that the No. 1 purchases by SNAP households are soft drinks, which accounted for 5% of the dollars they spent on food.  While the report suggests that a disproportionate amount of SNAP money is going toward unhealthful foods, the USDA said it was unfair to single out food stamp recipients for their soft drink consumption. SNAP households spent 9.3% of their grocery budgets on sweetened beverages. That was slightly higher than the 7.1% figure for households that do not receive food stamps. While food stamp users bought slightly more junk food and fewer vegetables, both SNAP and non-SNAP households bought a lot of sweetened drinks, candy, ice cream, and potato chips. Across all households, the report found, “more money was spent on soft drinks than any other item.” Overall, the report found, SNAP households spent about 40 cents of every dollar on “basic items” like meat, fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, and bread. They spent another 40 cents on “cereal, prepared foods, dairy products, rice, and beans.” The remaining 20 cents of each dollar was spent on a broad array of junk foods that included “sweetened beverages, desserts, salty snacks, candy, and sugar.”

Some conservative thinkers believe SNAP funds, like other federal food assistance programs, should be used only for purchasing healthy foods, citing the nutrition standards in the School Meals programs. Liberals emphasize the similarities in purchasing patterns between SNAP and non-SNAP households, note that many sugary drinks are fruit juices, and wonder why conservatives find the “nanny state” approach acceptable for low-income households.

Sources: NYT, 1/13/17, SNAP $ for Soda? ; American Enterprise Institute, 1/18/17, Limit SNAP Use ; Talk Poverty, 1/16/17, Let SNAP Buyers Buy

Monday, January 23, 2017


USDA needs to align SNAP with the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which calls for 75% of meals to focus on plant-based foods, nutrition and diet experts argue in a new report. A paper in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine recounts SNAP’s history, reviews its current state, and puts forth ideas to improve the program. “Since [SNAP] was first conceived, the food supply has grown much more complicated -- there are now many new ways to eat badly. There are many barriers to healthy food choices other than cost. And when food costs less, there is the risk that an excess will be eaten….” the report’s authors contend. They want USDA to fund and support state pilot programs that will help identify and provide solutions for larger-scale federal alignment. In addition to improving the health of program participants, the recommendations could also lead to substantial financial savings, they assert. The average monthly SNAP benefit was $126.83 per person in 2015. By aligning SNAP benefits with one of three suggested diets in the new Dietary Guidelines, the average cost of meals would dip to $121.02, for a $73 savings compared with the most comprehensive SNAP benefit of $194, according to the report authors.

Source: MedPage Today, 1/18/17, SNAP Diet Change Needed

Friday, January 20, 2017


SNAP users may soon begin to see more variety of SNAP-eligible foods in their local groceries and bodegas. Starting May 17, 2017, stores that want to begin participating in SNAP will be expected to stock at least 84 items (1) vegetables or fruits; (2) dairy products; (3) meat, poultry, or fish; and (4) bread or cereals. Stores that are already participating will have to meet these minimums by January 17, 2018. Retailers will have to stock at least 3 units (bags, cans, boxes) of 7 different kinds of products of those 4 staple food categories. Different brands, formats, flavors, or types of the same product are not considered different varieties.  Apples, carrots, and pears are considered three different varieties in the vegetables or fruits staple food category, but tomato sauce, tomatoes, and 100% tomato juice are only considered one variety in the vegetables or fruits staple food category (tomato).

Source: USDA, 12/24/16, SNAP Retailer Rules

Wednesday, January 18, 2017


Two key purposes of welfare reform are providing a temporary safety net for families and preparing recipients for work.  Yet nationally, states use just 51% of their combined TANF block grant and state funds for basic assistance, work-related activities, work supports/supportive services, and child care, the latest data (2015) show. States now spend only 25% of their TANF funds on basic assistance to help very poor families care for their children and meet very basic needs, such as shelter.  When TANF began 20 years ago, basic assistance was the single biggest use of TANF funds in all states. And, not only has state spending on basic assistance dropped, but the TANF block grant has lost a third of its value since its creation due to inflation.  After adjusting for inflation, state spending on basic assistance has fallen by 62% since 1997. States spend little to help families work, using only 10% of their TANF funds for work activities and supports, and they use only 17% of their TANF funds to help low-income working families afford child care.  

Source: Center for Budget & Policy Priorities, 1/10/17, TANF Spending

Tuesday, January 17, 2017


A new study investigates whether US farm subsidy policies help the food consumption and nutritional well-being of low-income Americans. It focusses on the poor, because they are especially vulnerable to changes in food prices. On net, the study finds, the impact of these subsidy programs on US consumer prices is tiny.  It concludes that farm programs do not affect food prices in a way that protects the poor, and the people whose incomes are most improved by farm policies are not those who are at risk of poverty and hunger. And, it finds, farm subsidies may compete for budget dollars with federal nutrition assistance programs that help poor people. Government spending on farm subsidies may reduce spending on SNAP and school lunch subsidies, and other food and nutrition programs in the USDA budget.

Source: American Enterprise Institute, 1/9/17, Farm Subsidies

Monday, January 16, 2017


President-elect Trump hasn't yet nominated someone to head USDA and the Food and Drug Administration. But this lack of attention won't make future food battles any less cutthroat. Plenty of people in Washington, including powerful factions in the Republican majority in Congress, are hoping to change a wide variety of food-related policies and believe that the new administration offers a prime opportunity to do so.

Among the potential changes to watch for:

  • The Farm Bill, which funds both SNAP (food stamps) and farm subsidies, is due to be renegotiated by the end of 2018. Some conservative Republicans probably will renew their efforts to separate the farm-related provisions and the nutrition programs into separate bills. Many observers believe that this would leave each of them more vulnerable to attack. But farm groups and poverty advocates are likely to mount a fierce counterattack. The stakes are high. SNAP, in particular, is one of the country's most important "safety net" programs for the poor.
  • There could be attempts to roll back parts of the school lunch reforms ushered in during the Obama administration. Congress might try to undo school meal standards or dismantle the National School Lunch Program by converting it into block grants that states could manage with only limited federal oversight.
  • New menu labeling rules could be at risk. Federal standards requiring chain restaurants to list calories on menus or menu boards are set to go into effect in 2017. Those rules were mandated by the Affordable Care Act, which is set for repeal.

Source: NPR, 12/28/16, Food Fights

Friday, January 13, 2017

Potsdam Snack Pack Program

The Potsdam Snack Packs program is a great example of what a person can accomplish with vision and determination. Laurell Brault began pursuing this program in April 2016 after observing that other St. Lawrence County schools such as Canton, Massena, and Ogdensburg had successful backpack programs and Potsdam did not. The need definitely exists in Potsdam; about 30 percent of students at Lawrence Avenue Elementary School are eligible for free or reduced lunch, and as of January, 100 elementary students are receiving weekly snack packages from the program. 

"The addition of the Snack Pack program is great news for the families at Lawrence Avenue. In our community we do not always know just how much a family might be struggling and we want them to know we see how hard they are working to provide for their children. We want to help families in any way we can to ensure are students are getting adequate nutrition," Lawrence Avenue Principal Jennifer Gray has stated.

This program receives no funding from the school district; it's entirely run by volunteer power. In particular, the Potsdam Lions Club has stepped up to provide assistance, and the program is housed at New Hope Community Church in Potsdam. GardenShare wants to be a part of the continued health of this program, which is why we're focusing on it, as well as Canton's Golden Bear Packs, for our Martin Luther King Jr. Day food drive this year. 

Please help GardenShare make Martin Luther King Jr. Day "a day on, not a day off" by collecting food to benefit these worthy programs! Food can be dropped off at our collection points between noon and 4:00 PM on Friday. Check out our website at for specifics on what food is needed and where the collection points are located.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Canton Golden Bear Packs

The Golden Bear Packs program at Canton Central School will soon be celebrating its third anniversary. The first 25 packs were sent home on February 12, 2013 with Banford Elementary School students who needed healthy food to eat over the weekend.

Did you know that over one-third of students in the Canton Central School district qualify for free or reduced lunch? That means, according to the USDA, that those families, if there are four people in the household, are earning less than $44,965 per year (for reduced lunch) or $31,590 per year (for free lunch). Maintaining a household budget is not easy with income levels such as these, and Canton CSD (as have several other districts in St. Lawrence County) has recognized that without a secure source of healthy food, children can't be expected to perform well in school. As one of the school counselors explained to NPR in 2014, "I think a lot of our students worry about kind of grownup problems ... whether it be money and food and heat, and those kinds of things."

The students who benefit from Golden Bear Packs receive 10 items of healthy food each Friday, including breakfast, lunch, snacks, juice boxes, fresh fruit and more. Everything from whole wheat crackers to canned pasta might find its way into a pack. But of course, a program like this depends on the generous donations of the community.

GardenShare and SLU Campus Kitchens are happy to be able to support Golden Bear Packs through our Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service food drive on Monday, January 16th. Please visit the GardenShare website at to learn more about what food is needed, then take some time on Monday to collect food in your neighborhood and bring it to the collection van on Main Street in Canton (next to the Canton Municipal Building) between noon and 4pm. Help us make it a day on, not a day off!

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

MLK Day of Service

Did you know that Martin Luther King Jr. Day is the ONLY federal holiday to have official Congressional designation as a day of service? Since 1994, the Corporation for National and Community Service has been encouraging people across America to do something to help their communities – to make this holiday “a day on, not a day off.”

You might be embarrassed to learn that in 2016, New York State ranked 49th out of 50 states and Washington DC in terms of numbers of residents who volunteered. Less than 20 percent of state residents volunteered in 2015, according to data collected by the Corporation for National and Community Service. In better news, however, one of the most popular volunteer activities in 2015 in New York State was “collect, prepare, distribute or serve food.” Hunger is something we can all understand … something that none of us want to experience.

GardenShare and SLU Campus Kitchens are doing their part to raise New York State’s rating for 2017! Won’t you join us? Take part in our food drive on Monday, January 16th and help kids who receive healthy food from the Potsdam Snack Packs program and the Canton Golden Bear Packs program. Check out for specifics on what food is needed and  how you can contribute. Let’s work together to make what Dr. King called a “beloved community”!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

ACA and food security

Beyond insuring preexisting conditions and covering young adults until age 26 on their parents’ health plans, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) includes another requirement worth keeping. The ACA mandates that nonprofit hospitals conduct a Community Health Needs Assessment and Implementation Plan every three years or risk a $50,000 tax and the loss of their nonprofit status. Community Health Needs Assessments have reported food insecurity as a top finding among patient populations. In response to their findings, health centers nationwide have developed Community Health Implementation Plans that address their patients’ food insecurity. Partnerships between medical centers and food banks have begun in Oregon, Colorado, Texas, Ohio, and Minnesota. Nearby, the Greater Boston Food Bank (GBFB) and Boston Medical Center established the nation’s first hospital-based food pantry. In 2016, GBFB launched a public health initiative to support community health centers. In partnership with the Charles River Community Health Center in Brighton, GBFB provides the health center with a toolkit of available resources to which patients can be connected, including local food pantries, state and federal assistance programs, and nutrition education, and it operates a free monthly, produce-only mobile market in its parking lot. To date, it has distributed more than 15,000 pounds of food.

Source: Boston Globe, 12/29/16, ACA and Hunger

Monday, January 9, 2017


snaptohealth, a virtual town hall that provides information on SNAP now also includes resources on WIC. The website is a one-stop-shop for a wealth of resources and interactive tools for the two programs, including the latest nutrition news, informative blog posts, meal recipes, discussion forums, policy reports, and links to thousands of nutrition resources. The new website is mobile and tablet compatible to help better reach low-income populations who overwhelmingly access the internet via mobile devices.

Source: PRweb, 12/20/16, SNAP to Health

Friday, January 6, 2017


Officials in Arkansas and Maine are gearing up to ask the Trump administration for permission to impose new restrictions on what SNAP dollars can buy. Maine Health and Human Services commissioner Mary Mayhew intends to submit paperwork to the USDA desk as soon as Trump takes power, she told the Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal. The proposal is likely to reflect Gov. Paul LePage’s (R) previous attempts to enact such rules, which would have barred SNAP dollars from being used to purchase any grocery item that’s subject to state sales tax, such as granola bars, trail mix, shelled nuts, and deli-made potato salad. Republican lawmakers in Arkansas have filed legislation that would ban products not approved for the separate, dietarily specific WIC program that supplements food budgets for low-income mothers.

Source: Think Progress, 1/4/17, SNAP Restrictions Looming

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Shiitake mushroom workshop coming up

The Cornell Small Farms Program is offering a one-day workshop on Sunday, January 29 titled, "Log-Grown Shiitake: Viability for Small Farms" at the Paul Smith's College VIC in Paul Smiths, NY, co-sponsored by Franklin County Cooperative Extension.

The cultivation of shiitake offers farmers and woodlot owners a good opportunity to utilize their forested lands while turning a profit.

Anyone who a resident of New York State and growing commercially, starting up, or considering commercial production is welcome to attend. The workshop content will cover post-production aspects including safety, sanitation, marketing, and regulations.

NOTE: Participants should be versed in the basics of how to produce log-grown shiitake mushrooms prior to attending the workshop. Take a class, or view our free online resources.
On the day following the workshop, current and prospective farmers can schedule FREE one-on-one consultations with extension educators to review their farm goals, resources, and discuss challenges and opportunities for their own production.

 To see the Schedule and Register: visit

Cost: $30/person

Funding for this project is provided by the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant  and administered through the New York Farm Viability Institute.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Upcoming webinars on IPM in Greenhouse/High Tunnel

Save the Dates!

We will be holding a series of short webinars on Greenhouse/High Tunnel Vegetable IPM on Thursdays from 12-1 in February and March.  The intent is for each topic to be briefly covered and then followed by discussion:

Feb 2                  Introduction to the project
Feb 9 & Feb 16    Basics of light, water fertility, media as they relate to pest management
Feb 23                Vegetable crop production in gh/ht
Mar 2                  Disease management in gh/ht
Mar 9                  Insect management in gh/ht
Mar 16                Weed management in gh/ht (lamb)  especially in winter production
Mar 23                How to write/use an IPM plan

Zoom information for each webinar will be coming soon.   All webinars will be recorded in case you can’t attend in person.

During the week of April 24 there will be a training session in Geneva to follow up on these webinars. More information to follow on that, too.

Contact Cornell Cooperative Extension for more information.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Campus Kitchens volunteers

Last night, a crew of friends of GardenShare volunteered to help cook, serve, and clean up for the weekly meal served by St. Lawrence University's Campus Kitchens program.

Kate and Margaret Harloe help load the
van with supplies to transport to the church.
 While this program is operated by students, they are committed to serving every Monday evening, so community volunteers are needed at times when the students are on break, like now for the winter break.
Campus Kitchens started at St. Lawrence in 2010 when one of its students applied for a grant as a Senior project. It has since become a vitally important service that community members-at-large depend on for shared meals and fellowship.
Through this project St. Lawrence students and community volunteers turn food that would otherwise be wasted from campus dining halls and local farms into delicious, nutritionally balanced, three-course meals.  The meals, prepared at St. Lawrence and served at the Canton Unitarian Church, are open to anyone free of charge.   It takes many volunteers to procure food, and prepare and serve these meals. If you'd like to help, please contact SLU Volunteer Services at 229-5135.
GardenShare recently received a grant from the State of New York to increase the number of volunteers engaged in fighting hunger in the North Country.  Last night's efforts was one of our first attempts.  Thank you to these friends who volunteered to help last night:  Mark Berninghausen; Gwen Cunninghan; Margaret, Bart, Ben, and Kate Harloe; Anneke Larrance; Gloria McAdam; Carol and Tom Pynchon; Carol Strome; Jennifer Whittaker; and Theresa Witmer.

Faith-based organizations connecting people to healthy food

Faith-based organizations (such as churches, mosques and synagogues) frequently play important roles in supporting the health and well-being of their congregations and neighborhoods.  In recent years, these organizations have often moved beyond the food pantry or soup kitchen to find new ways to help low-income families access healthy food.

Over the past few years, the Food Trust developed two resource guides to help connect congregations and farmers and share best practices, lessons learned, case studies and key considerations. Click on the guides to learn more if you are interested in pursuing such a partnership. 

While Philadelphia-centric, these guides could be useful to our thinking here in St. Lawrence County.  If you look at them and find something of interest that you'd like to explore further, please be in touch!

Monday, January 2, 2017

MLK Food Drive to benefit local backpack programs

In keeping with the MLK Day theme, "Make it a day on, not a day off," volunteers from GardenShare and SLU Volunteer Services in Potsdam and Canton are joining forces on Martin Luther King Jr. Day to help hungry students in their communities.

“We will be gathering and sorting food that will be donated to the Golden Bear Packs program at Canton Central School and to the Snack Pack program at Potsdam Central School,” explained Rhonda Rodriguez, Volunteer Coordinator for GardenShare. “We are asking community members, families, students, school groups, and service organizations to go door-to-door to collect the food.”

The Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service is a national movement, explained Ashlee Downing, director of volunteer services at St. Lawrence University. “This is a day when school is not in session and many people have the day off from work, a holiday for the majority of the community. It’s a great opportunity for families to come together to help others.”

The Golden Bear Packs program and the Snack Packs program are designed to provide healthy food to students over the weekend and during school vacations. The food supplements the meals that students receive in school during the week.

“It’s our hope that between now and Martin Luther King Jr. Day, people will make a point of stocking up on the specific foods that the programs are looking for, and have it ready when community members come knocking,” Rodriguez explained. “If it so happens that people have food and nobody knocks on their door, they can simply bring it to our central collection point in each town.”

On Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 16, 2017, GardenShare volunteers will be collecting food at New Hope Community Church, 33 Grant Street, in Potsdam from 12:00 noon to 4:00 PM. Students from SLU Volunteer Services will have a food collection van located in the parking lot next to the Canton Municipal Building, 60 Main Street, during the same hours.

If community members wish to donate food but cannot do so on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there will be an additional collection on Wednesday, January 18th at Gunnison Memorial Chapel on the St. Lawrence University campus, during the multi-faith Service of Songs and Readings featuring the SLU choirs. Students from SLU Volunteer Services will be on hand to accept and sort food donations at the chapel.

Food needed for the Canton Golden Bear Packs program includes: single-serve boxes of unsweetened cereal, oatmeal packets, granola bars, cereal bars, peanut butter, plastic jars of jelly, canned pasta, canned tuna or chicken, soup, mac & cheese, canned vegetables, pudding cups, juice-packed fruit cups, trail mix, raisins, unsweetened applesauce, nuts, whole wheat crackers, microwave popcorn, and 100% fruit and vegetable juice boxes.

The Potsdam Snack Packs program also has specific needs, which include: fruit cups, hot chocolate, juice boxes (sugar free or reduced sugar), pretzels, Ramen noodles, breakfast bars, and small packs of almonds or mixed nuts.

Any food collected that does not work for the school programs will not go to waste, according to Ms. Rodriguez. “We’ll bring it to the Potsdam Neighborhood Center and to the Canton Church and Community Program for their food distribution,” she added.

“Everybody Eats – that’s what our agency is all about,” stated Ms. Rodriguez. “There was great awareness around the holiday season about how many hungry people there are in the North Country, but it’s important to remember that this need doesn’t end when the holidays end. That’s especially true for children, who can’t expect to do well in school if they don’t have enough healthy food to eat at home.”