Following up behind the conversation about food stamps being banned for use in purchasing soft drinks… there’s also the inevitable question of what options are available for those of us who are on food stamps?

And with all this talk of farmer’s markets and fancy schmancy grocery stores that sell $7/lb mushrooms… perhaps its time we talked about the other end of the spectrum.

A few months back, a reader who identified herself as Naturally Single Mom shared with us the following tidbits:

We ARE one of the few (if I understand this correctly) places that allows you to use food stamps at the farmer’s market. Here, they charge your EBT card in increments of $10, and give you tokens that you use as cash at the individual vendors.

Whole Foods – I’m not sure if it is company-wide or not (Erika’s Note: It is company-wide.) – does accept food stamps. I’ve never seen the EBT sticker on the door of any Whole Foods, or our local health food store that was just bought out by Whole Foods (Greenlife Grocery, referenced in the above mentioned article)…I guess they don’t want the rich folks to know that us poor people are shopping there?

I live in an area with enough grocery competition that I can stretch my food stamps – I shop buy one get one free sales, and stock up on stuff like cereal (the healthy stuff DOES go on sale from time to time), salad dressing (because if you have enough salad dressing, you’ll eat salad more often, right?), yogurt, bagged salad stuff (which sometimes makes it cheaper than buying actual lettuce and cutting it up, but is definitely not a “stock up” kind of thing), frozen veggies, stuff like that. (Yogurt freezes well, and I use the frozen stuff for smoothies.)

I also buy fruit when it’s in season and on sale and make my own applesauce and apple butter, or flash freeze berries, peaches, and other fruits for smoothies in the winter.

I use websites like Southern Savers and Hot Coupon World (which has a coupon database, so you can find printable coupons online.) I never knew that you could use TWO coupons when you buy one and get one free, until I found those websites.

I go to the recycling center once a week. (Ours is only open three days a week.) They don’t care if I go digging through the newspaper dumpster and take out the coupons that other people discard. I usually walk away with 30 or 40 full coupon inserts in about 20 minutes of digging. I don’t even buy the newspaper anymore (since all I bought it for was the coupons anyway!)

The best part about food stamps, for me, was being able to buy seeds and plants with it. I have a HUGE strawberry patch ($3 for 10 strawberry plants at Wal-mart, have more than paid for themselves, and they’ll come back year after year), blueberry bushes, even an apple tree, all paid for by food stamps. (The caveat here is that you have to buy them at a store that accepts food stamps. Home Depot and Lowes and any garden place that I’ve ever seen does not.) I have a garden in my front yard growing zucchini, crookneck squash, cucumbers, lettuces of all types, spinach, tomatoes, pumpkin, and watermelon. As long as it is going to grow into a food, any packet of seeds or plant is covered by food stamps.

I try to use natural fertilizers – banana peels provide potassium to the soil, crushed egg shells provide calcium. Both of which can be bought with food stamps.

Like I said, I find it horribly sad that because a rotisserie chicken is hot, it’s a no-go. If it is a cooked rotisserie chicken that has been refrigerated, then it is allowed. Because I guess poor people don’t deserve hot food? I can buy freshly prepared sushi, fancy Perrier water, or pork rinds, but not a hot chicken. It’s very strange.

She asks some pretty interesting questions, if you ask me. She also put me and my bargain hunting skills to shame. Excuse me as I go find a pot so that I can grow a strawberry or something.

But honestly, I’m taking advice from her on how to penny pinch. Y’all know I’m cheap. Cheeeeeeeeeeeap.

I’ve seen suggestions that the value of food stamps should double when it comes to fruits and vegetables… and while that might work, the question will always remain “Are there stores selling viable fruits and veggies nearby the most affected areas?” Any suggested solution that doesn’t address the very real issue of accessibility and information/education will come up sorely short… and while the government tries to duke it out with itself regarding these people’s purchasing abilities, there are people like the above who won’t be affected by it at all. It highlights the idea that says “the more limited your means, the more valuable it is to be resourceful.”

While I’m not quite there on the grow-it-yourself aspect (but I’m trying!), I admire that kind of dedication to clean eating. What other tips are out there to help people make the best use of food stamps possible when it comes to clean eating?

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Those that are interested in helping others who are benefiting from food stamps may be interesting in looking at online social work programs.