Russia cut off its nose to spite its face, but now it is looking to stem some of the bleeding.
In slapping sanctions against agricultural imports from the U.S. and the European Union in early August, Russia’s tried to deliver a one-fingered salute to the West in response to European and U.S. visa restrictions imposed on Russia travelers for its support rebels in the Ukraine.
Russia’s blacklist of agricultural products was weakened slightly in late August, however, as the Russian government made exceptions to the blacklist for seed potatoes, sweet corn and onions.
While seed potatoes, sweet corn and onions are not apples, pears and grapes, perhaps the latest move by Russia is a sign that it will someday soon be willing to beat a retreat from its hasty action. Perhaps by the middle of the Siberian winter, fruit starved consumers in Russia can make their voices heard and bring a needed end to Russian grandstanding.
The great thing about pears from Oregon, apples from Washington and grapes from California is that they find consumers who love them, no matter the country, no matter the flag, and no matter the ideology. In the truest sense, American fruit serve as some of our best ambassadors of peace. Trade in farm produce should serve to build bridges between peoples, not be used as weapon to tear them down.
We need more international drive-by fruitings and less of the other kind. Listen up Vladimir; either lift the sanctions or face the ALS ice bucket challenge.
The trade sanctions by Russia against the West hurt Europe more than the U.S., and the European Commission is making allowances to help export-dependent sectors.
While the U.S. government and the USDA have stepped up support for specialty crops in recent years — we think of specialty crop block grants and the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program for Schools in particular — Europe still does far more for their fruit and vegetable producers.
The European Commission recently announced “exceptional support measures” for European Union producers of perishable fruits and vegetable, if they do say so themselves.
One European bureaucrat said the emergency support measures — market withdrawals for free distribution of produce, compensation for non harvesting and green harvesting — take into account Russian restrictions on imports of EU agricultural products and the resulting surplus of fruits and vegetables. Total budgeted amount for market support through the end of November is pegged at a hefty $169 million.
The U.S. government is not in the habit of writing checks to fruits and vegetable producers, which is probably a good thing for both parties.
However, the U.S. is in the habit of writing checks to low income American consumers to help them purchase food, and a pilot program in Michigan has demonstrated the effectiveness of providing incentives to SNAP recipients when they purchase local foods.
The program gives SNAP participants who spend $10 in SNAP benefits (formerly known as food stamps) at a participating farmers market or grocery store an additional $10 of Double Up Food Bucks to purchase Michigan grown fruits and vegetables.
A five-year study of the program found more than 90% of SNAP recipients at farmers markets report eating more fruits and vegetables because of Double Up. What’s more, Michigan has become one of the top five states in the nation for SNAP use at farmers markets and the highest in the Midwest; in 2013. The study found 8% of all SNAP sales at farmers markets took place in Michigan even though less than 4% of total SNAP recipients live in the state.
Looking ahead, the program and others like it may expand .
The Fair Food Network will work with three independent grocery stores in Detroit and also expand the Double Up program to Battle Creek and Grand Rapids in a new partnership with SpartanNash, a national food distributor and grocery chain headquartered in Michigan. The expansion follows a 2013 grocery store pilot in Detroit, one of the first in the nation to bring incentives to grocery stores.
So far these incentive programs to boost local food purchases and give incentives to SNAP participants have been mainly funded with money donated from various foundations, insurance companies and corporations.
However, the 2014 farm bill includes $100 million for the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, a new grant program that will support communities to launch and expand programs like Double Up across the U.S.
But wait a second, let’s slow down. If the USDA intends to invest serious cash in promoting healthy incentives for SNAP participants, shouldn’t the program be valid for all fruits and vegetables grown in the U.S.? Yes, we are aware that SNAP incentives at farmers markets can help local farmers, but why should the taxpayer dollar favor local food over fruits produced and shipped from 2,000 miles away?
Like it has always been until now, the gospel of local food should be a self-supporting ministry.