Does New Hampshire Have Food Deserts?

Post written by UNH student and Seacoast Eat Local intern Meriah M.

Your local convenience store is probably familiar to you for the many times you’ve stopped for a cup of coffee, a pack of gum, or your favorite candy bar. You probably don’t find yourself shopping for groceries among the air fresheners and snack mixes. For one reason, these items cost more than they do at the local grocery store, and for another, in most instances, you can’t find the fruits, vegetables, meats, or dairy products that you need to prepare a balanced meal.  

However, across the United States, there are many people for which these stores are some of the only options to regularly buy food. These areas are known as food deserts, which the USDA defines as areas where people have limited access to a variety of healthy and affordable food. Living in a food desert makes a person more likely to experience food insecurity, even when receiving food assistance because there are few places to use SNAP benefits (food stamps) where nutritious food is available. 

New Hampshire’s food landscape is defined by the state’s rural communities and limited public transportation options, which creates a challenge for many low-income families looking to shop for healthy groceries. Using the USDA’s Economic Research Service Food Access Research Atlas, census tracts (a geographic region used for understanding the demographics of a portion of a county) that have low-income and low-access qualities can be identified (see picture). 

Decoding the Food Access Map (pictured): Tracts highlighted in green, including parts of almost every county in New Hampshire, contain areas that are characterized by low-income and low-access, meaning that a significant number of residents are more than one mile from the nearest supermarket in urban settings or more than ten miles from the nearest supermarket in rural settings. Additionally, tracks highlighted in yellow show areas where lack of vehicle access poses a challenge to residents, with the regions having either more than 100 housing units do not have a vehicle and are more than ½ mile from the nearest supermarket, or a significant number or share of residents are more than 20 miles from the nearest supermarket.

There are many areas in New Hampshire where people have limited access to nutritious food,  some areas are served exclusively by convenience stores, which do not stock fruit and vegetables to the extent that grocery stores do. A 2010 report from UNH’s Carsey School of Public Policy found a correlation in the state where areas that have lower food access also have higher rates of health conditions like diabetes and obesity, which are linked to diet. These adverse effects of lack of food access have prompted innovative ways to make healthy food available in underserved areas. 

In Hawaii, a local organization has pioneered online shopping experiences that empower SNAP recipients to buy locally produced fruit, vegetable, meat, and dairy products online. A similar program supported by the USDA operates in New York, however, instead of local retailers, the food will be supplied by Amazon, ShopRite, and Walmart. 

Right here in New Hampshire, Seacoast Eat Local is bringing food access to residents with the Seacoast Area Mobile Market (SAMM). The SAMM serves seacoast communities that have high concentrations of low-income or at-risk residents, are designated as being at higher risk for food insecurity, or have a reportedly high number of residents with lack of access to consistent means of transportation — targeting some of the green and yellow areas of the food access map. As with the stationary farmers’ markets, shoppers can use their SNAP benefits to purchase food at the SAMM and participate in the Granite State Market Match program, receiving a dollar for dollar match to double their purchasing power of fruits and vegetables. 

In areas where food options are limited to convenience stores, the Seacoast Area Mobile Market serves as an important access point for nutritious foods that everyone should have as part of their diet, regardless of their geographic location or income level. 

Follow the Seacoast Area Mobile Market on Instagram @SAMMVAN!

Safe Food Purchasing and Storage

Due to unprecedented events, Seacoast Eat Local has cancelled our winter farmers’ markets in March and April. This can be disheartening to those who enjoy the fresh food, food samples, and social camaraderie. In the absence of larger markets in the near future, Seacoast Eat Local has encouraged vendors to collaborate on small popup markets of roughly 3-5 to adhere to social distancing rules and avoid the transmission of COVID-19. Many farms and food providers are also developing new and creative solutions such as online ordering and delivery.

For information on how to still access local food vendor options, please visit www.seacoastharvest.org/safe

It is of importance not only to know where local food can be located but how to preserve these foods as long as possible to minimize travel and thus mitigate the risk of coming in contact with others during this crucial time. Many have raided grocery stores, leaving shelves of essential items empty. 

Reusable produce storage bags prolong freshness of vegetables through retaining moisture as opposed to storing them in sealed containers of plastic bags that are not breathable. Mushrooms are the exception to this; they are best stored in a closed paper bag, and not washed. Be sure to keep produce storage bags moist to retain freshness. These can be purchased online through companies such as Vejibag.

Many root vegetables are actually better stored dry, and not in the fridge. Potatoes, onions and garlic, for example, can be kept in a dry place for a month whereas refrigeration speeds up their biodegradation. Citrus fruits are also best stored at room temperature, as opposed to the fridge. 

In many instances, green/leafy vegetables are stored in refrigeration damp due to having been previously washed. If you do not finish consuming an entire head of lettuce, for example, consider drying the remaining lettuce with a napkin or paper towel. This will prevent it from becoming soggy and rotten too quickly. 

Finally, if your produce is pre-cut/prepackaged, or you have processed it and are saving for later, ensure produce is refrigerated. 

If you are curious about the handling and storage of produce, please visit the FDA’s website at https://www.fda.gov/food/buy-store-serve-safe-food/selecting-and-serving-produce-safely. Though the closing of larger markets limits our access to fresh, local food products, there are ways around this barrier through vendor collaboration and proper storage. For prevention of transmitting COVID-19, the most accurate information can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s website, www.cdc.gov.

 

A Spotlight on Salami

Salami also known as salame has a history that predates ancient Rome. Salami as a term refers to any form of encased meat, but is most commonly a pork sausage, pork blended with pork fat and a variety of spice mixes. Different types of salami can not only vary in flavor but also the part of the pig that is used to create it. Salami can be in fresh, cook, or dry-cured varieties and should look compact with a red or pink dominant color with speckles of white fat throughout. When cut, the fat should stay within the slice and not separate. Seasonings can vary and may include salt, pepper, garlic, fennel, wine, cinnamon, and many more. All the ingredients are mixed together and formed into the shape of a sausage, it is then encased and stored in a dark, cool place to age depending on the variety. Once stored, fermentation begins and that is how the salami continues to gain its flavor. When kept in a dark cool place, the salami can have a long shelf life. Another way to increase shelf life is to add coriander as a spice to the salami mix.

When preparing to eat, soft or cooked varieties should be sliced thin and hard or aged should be cut thick.  Depending on the variety, salami can be served in a number of ways including on a pizza, in a sandwich, on a charcuterie board, as antipasto, and many other ways. Different types of salami include but are not limited to chorizo, ciauscolo, finocchiona, genoa, kulen, pepperoni, and soppressata. The United States even has a salami capital, San Francisco. This is because the humid weather is the perfect environment to cure meat. Salami is both high in fat and protein, and the carbohydrate content depends on the additives in the mix. B vitamins are plentiful in salami however, it has a very high amount of sodium so it should be consumed in moderation. Similar to other fermented foods like kimchi or kombucha salami offers beneficial bacteria to the diet. You can purchase salami from Short Creek Farm and at some of these local markets.

A Spotlight on Honey

Honey has been around since the start of written history and most likely before that however there is not records prior. Since 2100 B.C.  it has been recorded as the first commonly used sweetener by humans. The first record is in Sumerian and Babylonian cuneiform writings and writings from Egypt and India. In years past it was used as currency, to make cement, polish and varnish, and in medicine.

Honey does not spoil and is best kept in a cool location out of sunlight. It is mostly sugar but does have some antioxidants depending on the bees and plants is comes from. There are different types of honey depending on the type of flower the bees go to. Some examples include lavender, clover, acacia, chestnut, sage, and many others. Honey can go threw different production and can be created into liquid in raw and pasteurized varieties, it can be in honeycomb, and also whipped. Honey can be used in many different recipes including baked goods, marinades, and can be added to tea.
Honey begins as nectar collected from flowers by bees. The bees then store the nectar in their honey stomachs. Those bees regurgitate the nectar into the hive and give it to worker bees. The worker bees then evaporate the water in the nectar by swallowing and regurgitating until the water content is lower. Once the water content of the nectar is lowered it is considered honey.
Honey can be found at you local farmers’ markets and from these farms.

The Man Behind Nutrition Incentive Programs

Post by Seacoast Eat Local Intern and UNH Student Meriah M.

Who is Gus Schumacher?

Fresh fruits and vegetables should be found in all of America’s kitchens regardless of the income of the household, however, access to affordable produce is out of financial reach for many low-income families. Gus Schumacher had served as an advocate for these families since 1980 in his capacity as an agricultural policy leader and Co-Founder of Wholesome Wave, an organization dedicated to supporting the healthy food purchasing ability of underserved families. 

Schumacher championed the importance of healthy food access, conceiving a program that would motivate low-income consumers to buy more fruits and vegetables by increasing their purchasing power and in turn, their ability to purchase healthy food. The power and reach of Schumacher’s innovative new approach to promoting fruit and vegetable consumption among underserved populations expanded to a broad network of what are now known as Nutrition Incentive Programs supported by federal grants, including Seacoast Eat Local’s very own Market Match. When Gus Schumacher died in 2017, the nutrition incentive grant program was renamed to the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program (GusNIP), honoring Schumacher’s dedication to universal access to affordable fruits and vegetables. 

We have Schumacher’s innovative agricultural spirit and passion for food access to thank for the implementation of many nutrition incentive programs. After gaining diverse experience in various food and agricultural sectors, Schumacher went on to serve as Under Secretary of Agriculture for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Services, where he oversaw the Farm Service Agency, the Foreign Agricultural Service, and the Risk Management Agency. Schumacher made invaluable contributions to the Department of Agriculture, impacting the lives of food assistance recipients, farmers, and his colleagues alike. 

In Schumacher’s role as founder and Vice President of Wholesome Wave, he increased the ability of low-income people to access healthy, local foods that spurred the creation of similar programs across the country. Wholesome Wave was built on the Double Value Coupon Program, the same dollar for dollar fruit and vegetable match program that Granite State Market Match provides today. 

Gus Schumacher’s death on September 24th of 2017 was met with great sadness, and his loss was felt deeply by all those in his life, including those involved in his food access advocacy work. It is with great appreciation for Schumacher that nutrition incentive programs move forward, serving his mission to provide healthy, delicious, farm-grown food to all. 

A Spotlight on Maple Syrup

Maple syrup is made by tapping maple trees and collecting the sap. The sap is then boiled until it becomes thicker and resembles a syrup. The sap is clear and looks almost like water but when boiled the brown color comes out. Once boiled the syrup is then filtered to remove any sediment, and that is how the smooth textured maple syrup is created. North Eastern Native Americans were the first known to make maple syrup. European settlers learned how to tap maple trees from indigenous tribes.

Maple trees make sugar in the summer and the starch is stored in the roots over the summer. The trees are then tapped for sap in mid-February to mid-March. Sap collection ends when temperatures stay above freezing or when the trees start to produce buds. 80% of the world’s maple syrup is actually made in Quebec, Canada. Maple syrup can be either grade A or grade B depending on the color of the syrup. Grade A can be either light amber, medium amber, or dark amber. Grade B is the darkest maple syrup available and is created from sap that is collected later in the season. It has a stronger maple flavor and is commonly used in baking, whereas grade A is usually drizzled over food like pancakes.

Maple syrup isn’t only a sugary treat, it is a great source of manganese and riboflavin. It also contains calcium, thiamin, copper, and potassium. However, the sugar content is very high, 1/3 cup supplies about 60 grams of sugar! With this high of a sugar content, maple syrup should be consumed in moderation. You can find maple syrup at your local farmers’ markets.

How to Incorporate Local Vegetables Into Your Winter Eating

Post by UNH student and Seacoast Eat Local intern, Chris G.

At the February 8th market in Exeter High School, the focus of my food demo was root vegetables and incorporating them into a fully balanced meal. Root vegetables are an imperative source of Vitamins A, B and C, fiber, iron and antioxidants. The 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommend that in the diet, half of grains be whole grain, and vegetables be from a variety of subcategories including dark green, red/orange, beans/legumes, and starches (potatoes.) Keep in mind that 50% of the population reach the recommended dietary fiber intake daily, 38g for men and 25g for women. Not only can a vegetable medley cover the recommended subcategories necessary for healthy eating patterns, but these vegetables are easy to store for long period during the cold months, whether it be dry storage or in the refrigerator.



 

The goal of a root vegetable hash/medley is to incorporate a variety of different root vegetables into one serving to cover the widest range of nutrition possible. Open year-round, Brandmoore Farm offers this variety of ingredients as well as other items such as dairy and meat. Here is an outline of the process I used for a recent farmers’ market market:


 

For a root vegetable medley, I use organic carrots, russet potatoes and golden beets. Slice them the way you like, and toss in olive oil. Olive oil is one of the few dietary staples I like to pair with veggies, as it offers a large amount of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats-great for the heart! Additionally, this can be paired with any source of protein (eggs, chicken, steak), for any meal of the day, which makes it a versatile option on any menu!

 

A Spotlight on Garlic

Garlic is often used to flavor food, but has had many uses in the past including medicine! The flavorful bulb has antibiotic properties and has been used since the Egyptian times. In Ancient Greece the original Olympians were given garlic to “enhance” their performance. Garlic is known to have anti-inflammatory properties and can act as a natural blood thinner.

Garlic is related to onions, leeks, and chives and is thought to have origins in Siberia. Garlic can maintain its shelf life in a dry, dark place with air circulation. If stored correctly a whole bulb can be stored for up to 6 months, however if peeled it will last a few days to a week in the fridge. You can tell if garlic has gone bad if you see brown spots and the clove is no longer firm to the touch. The smell garlic produces is actually from an enzyme called alliinase. The alliinase breaks down a chemical called alliin into allicin. Allicin has sulfur molecules and that is where the pungent smell comes from.
Whether you enjoy garlic as a flavoring agent or on its own there are so many recipes out there. If your looking for inspiration here are a couple recipes that put garlic at the forefront. Garlic can be found at your local farmers’ markets and from these farms. What is your favorite way to use or eat garlic? Let us know in the comments.

Market Match Across the United States

Post by Intern and UNH Student Meriah M.

Here in New Hampshire shoppers using SNAP (formerly food stamps) are able to double their buying power at farmers markets through the Granite State Market Match program, where food assistance benefits are matched with vouchers to purchase fruits and veggies from local farms. 

Across the country there are programs similar to Granite State Market Match, commonly known as nutrition incentive programs, that help low-income shoppers buy more fresh produce. 

California is home to another Market Match program that parallels the Granite State Market Match in its goals to provide additional income for SNAP shoppers to use at local farmers markets. The California Market Match program is funded by the same grant that supports Granite State Market Match, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) Grant, with the Ecology Center implementing and overseeing the program. In both New Hampshire and California, the FINI Grant (now called the Gus Schumacher Nutrition Incentive Program) supports efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption among SNAP recipients. 

Since the program was originally founded in 2009, Market Match in California has evolved to best support low-income consumers and local farms. At its inception, California’s Market Match looked similar to the current structure of the Granite State Market Match, with community-based partnerships of market operators and local organizations that created the California Market Match Consortium (CMMC) facilitating the program. What started as a program offered at 44 markets has expanded to 290 sites across the state. 

Though it is helpful for states to model various programs on the success of other states, programs will differ based on the culture, location, and government of each state. One obvious difference between California and New Hampshire is the climate, lending to significantly different agricultural products and timelines that effect when and where fresh produce is available. Outside of physical differences that affect farmers’ market shoppers, there are differences in the way Market Match is allocated. As in New Hampshire, California shoppers are able to get $1 to $1 SNAP dollars matched for produce vouchers, but only up to $10 depending on the market’s Market Match budget. In New Hampshire, shoppers are not limited by Granite State Market Match as to how much they can spend and customers will commonly match $20 or $30 at a time. 

In California, WIC benefits (the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children) can also be used for the Market Match Program, allowing new mothers and children up to the age of five another opportunity to engage with Market Match and in turn, local farms. In New Hampshire, Market Match is currently limited to SNAP benefits (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). 

Access to affordable, healthy, local food is important everywhere in America, and it is exciting to see New Hampshire and California pioneering unique Market Match programs that benefit low-income consumers and local farmers. Evaluating the various ways states implement nutrition incentive programs will lead to better informed national policy and solutions to address food insecurity.