Tamworth pigs grazing, photo provided by Patrick Beck
Tamworth pigs grazing, photo provided by Patrick Beck

Current news releases—Eat Drink RI is not the source for these items—please follow any links for more information.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island Distributes Over $100,000 in Farmers Market Incentives to SNAP Recipients

In October 2013, Farm Fresh Rhode Island distributed its 100,000th dollar to food stamp (SNAP) recipients to support the purchase of fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets across Rhode Island.

Out of over 60 farmers markets in the state, Farm Fresh Rhode Island manages 9 summertime farmers markets and the Pawtucket Wintertime Farmers Market. All Farm Fresh Rhode Island markets accept SNAP benefits as a way of ensuring that all Rhode Island families are able to accept the delicious veggies, fruit, herbs, eggs, fish, meats and cheeses produced by our local farmers and fishermen. Many of these markets are located in low-income neighborhoods, including Woonsocket, South Providence, and West Warwick. To increase the accessibility of farmers markets, Farm Fresh runs the “Bonus Bucks” program: for every $5 spent with EBT, customers receive a bonus $2 to spend on fruits and vegetables. Bonus Bucks are funded through individual, corporate, government, and foundation donations, from such organizations as Wholesome Wave, the Rhode Island Foundation, and the City of Providence.

Currently, less than 1% of all SNAP dollars in RI are spent at farmers markets. Bonus Bucks help attract SNAP shoppers to markets to help keep these federal dollars circulating in the local economy. Farm Fresh began the Bonus Buck program in the summer of 2009, when about $10,000 were distributed. In the first year Bonus Bucks was implemented, Farm Fresh witnessed a 675% increase in the amount of SNAP spent at their markets. The program has since continued to grow exponentially. During the summer of 2013, FFRI processed more than $61,000 in SNAP benefits at its markets, up from $43,800 in summer 2012. This resulted in the distribution of nearly $25,000 of Bonus Bucks – money that goes directly into the pockets of local farmers and provides additional sustenance for families in need.

This milestone coincides directly with drastic changes for SNAP recipients. Currently approximately 14% of U.S. households rely on food stamp benefits – nearly 47 million people, including 22 million children and 9 million elderly or disabled individuals. In Rhode Island, 17% of the population – 180,000 individuals – utilize SNAP benefits. On November 1, 2013, all SNAP recipients saw a significant decrease in their benefits – approximately 5%. For example, a household with three people experienced a decrease of $29 per month – the equivalent of taking away 16 meals based on the USDA’s Thrifty Food Plan. The decreases stem from the expiration of funds set aside in the 2009 Recovery Act – and amount to $5 billion per year.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island will continue to support access to healthy, local foods through all of its programs. Farm Fresh runs two markets a week throughout the winter where customers can use SNAP benefits and receive Bonus Bucks. FFRI also provides food to local food pantries and shelters in several ways – partnering with farmers to donate unsold produce at the end of market days and also donating unused produce from FFRI’s other programs.

Founded in 2004, Farm Fresh Rhode Island is a non-profit organization that works to grow a food system that values the environment, health and quality of life of local farmers and eaters. Farm Fresh Rhode Island is dedicated to increasing farm viability, building healthier communities, increasing access to fresh food, improving the impact of food production and distribution on the environment, and strengthening community based businesses. For more information or to contribute to the Bonus Bucks Fund, visit www.farmfreshri.org.

Reed Calls for More Robust Funding to Support Food Banks

In an effort to ensure food banks in Rhode Island and across the country are able to help vulnerable families, U.S. Senator Jack Reed is calling on Congress to listen to the needs of the hungry. Reed is seeking to strengthen the federal nutrition safety net in the Farm Bill. Today, Reed and 25 of his Senate colleagues sent a letter to key Farm Bill negotiators urging them to support a level of funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) that will keep pace with the demand for emergency food relief.

“Congress needs to do more to help thousands of hungry Rhode Islanders meet basic nutritional needs and alleviate hunger,” said Reed. “Our food banks are working overtime to feed hungry people in the communities they serve, but they’re already stretched thin. I urge bipartisan support for our nation’s emergency food assistance network in the Farm Bill. Instead of just shifting the burden to local food banks, Congress needs to work together to improve the economy and provide cost-effective resources to support programs like TEFAP.”

TEFAP is a means-tested federal program that provides food commodities through organizations like food banks, soup kitchens, and emergency shelters. TEFAP helps feed children, seniors, and families at risk of hunger and poor nutrition by enabling the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase surplus foods from American farmers and ship it to states with high rates of unemployment and low-income families. State agencies administer the program and leverage the funding by partnering with local organizations to distribute the TEFAP commodities and storage and distribution funding with private donations of food, infrastructure, and manpower.

Last year, Reed, a member of the Appropriations Committee, helped secure $311 million overall for TEFAP, and Rhode Island received approximately $1.4 million. This year, Reed is seeking to increase mandatory funding for TEFAP resources under the Farm Bill by $330 million per year for over the next ten years.

According to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank’s newly released 2013 Status Report on Hunger, 68,000 people visit food banks around Rhode Island each month, an increase of 1,000 people over last year.

Overall, the Senate version of the Farm Bill would cut $4.1 billion in nutrition assistance over the next 10 years from programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), while the House version would cut nearly $40 billion over the same period.

“The severe SNAP cuts recommended by the House can’t be easily made up by food banks and other charitable organizations. In fact, it will put even more of a strain on these programs,” said Reed, who earlier this year signed a letter to Farm Bill negotiators urging them to protect SNAP from funding cuts and harmful policy changes. “Instead of reducing hunger assistance for vulnerable Americans we should be reducing wasteful subsidies for big agribusinesses.”

Swine and Dine 2013 by Patrick Beck

Rich Silvia was clearly smitten. Right there in front of God and everybody, the White Horse Tavern’s executive chef eloquently professed his undying devotion. He noted her unique family history and the traditional manner of her upbringing, rare and refreshing in today’s world. The object of his affection remained quiet during this emotional outpouring, due in large part to the conditions under which she found herself in the company of the gathered celebrants.

Tamworth pigs, photo provided by Patrick Beck
Tamworth pigs, photo provided by Patrick Beck

Chef Silvia’s poetic musings were directed toward the silky golden nutty fat of an acorn-fed Tamworth pig raised at the Swiss Village Foundation nearby. SVF is a privately funded non-profit research facility dedicated to the preservation of genetic diversity among endangered heritage livestock breeds. Our country’s shift away from small family farms raising efficient, regionally adapted animals to a standardized industrial model focused on a small number of breeds has put our food supply at great risk. Heritage breeds retain important fitness traits like mothering ability, parasite resistance, heat tolerance and forage utilization that have been lost in the race to maximize milk and meat production. They also taste better due to slower growth rate that results in deep powerful flavor and the “terroir” of the land, making them the choice of many chefs committed to the resurgent farm-to-table movement.

Located on 45 rolling acres in historic Newport, SVF maintains a globally unique “seed bank” and conservation plan for 25 rare breeds of cattle, goats, sheep and hogs that could be lost to our descendants. Genetic material is stored through cryopreservation of germplasm (frozen embryos and semen). The star of this evening’s dinner highlighting SVF’s important work was a Tamworth raised by herdsman Nick Bowley in the bellota style of the famous Iberico hogs fattened in the oak forests of Spain’s western provinces. A jamon from one pata negra could easily set you back a couple of car payments. Our pasture-grown pig’s diet had been supplemented for 5 months with white oak acorns which are low in bitter tannins and produce a soft fat prized for its low melting point and sweet complex flavor. Acorn-fed pork is high in healthy mono-unsaturated fats and oleic acid. It has been called “olive oil on four feet”.

Swine and Dine course, photo provided by Patrick Beck
Swine and Dine course, photo provided by Patrick Beck

The Tamworth, developed in England as a forest grazer, displays natural forage efficiency and maternal instinct well suited to small farm production. Most commercial hogs can’t care for their own young and sometimes eat them due to high stress levels common in the shameful confinement facilities that deliver the vast majority of our country’s pork. Pigs are highly intelligent and social animals that need to access pasture and woodlands in order to thrive. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are studying Tamworths as a candidate for reintroducing these important survival traits and group dynamics into commercial herds before they are lost forever.

Chef Silvia’s team prepared a triumphant 5-course snout-to-tail meal that celebrated the noble swine in all of its myriad preparations. Each course was paired with a wine that complemented the taste notes of the dish. We started with a perfect first bite – a slice of head cheese (or terrine if you prefer). The come-hither flavor of the head and neck meat speckled with luscious fat partnered with a classic port wine syrup and pickled golden raisins – fruit and pork are best of friends. Next came a masterful little sammy – shredded cured country ham on brioche kissed with the earthy sweetness of truffle honey – a delight. Croutons basted with that nutty golden clarified fat negotiated a happy truce between a light Ceasar salad and the dark power of a country pate. The beautifully composed entree was cleverly presented as “Three Little Piggies” – crispy braised belly, pan-roasted loin & rillete with root vegetables. Finally dulce de leche ice cream was crowned with chicharrones dusted with sugar and cinnamon.

You can experience this same incredible meal at the White Horse Tavern. Due to high demand, an encore presentation made from the same animal has been scheduled for December 4th. Tickets cost $135 each (including wine pairings, tax, gratuity and a donation to SVF) and can be purchased by calling (401) 849-3600 or visiting www.whitehorsenewport.com. You can learn more about efforts to preserve heritage livestock breeds at www.svffoundation.org or www.livestockconservancy.org.

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