(TRENTON) – With approximately 41 New Jersey municipalities meeting federal criteria to be classified as low-income and having little access to supermarkets,
healthy, affordable food options, such as fresh produce, can be scarce. To help eliminate such barriers, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Adam Taliaferro, Carol Murphy and Anthony Verrelli to establish a two-year food desert pilot program that would make nutritious food more available was approved 34-0 by the full Senate Thursday to gain final legislative approval.
“For many New Jersey residents, consuming a healthy diet is a matter of access to healthy food and the means to purchase it,” said Taliaferro (D-Gloucester, Salem and Cumberland). “While families may want to eat well-balanced meals, finances are often an issue. In many instances, nutritious food can be costly.”
The bill (A-4704) directs the Department of Agriculture to create a two-year program that would establish year-round, weekly produce markets in three food desert communities, including one in a rural area. As defined by the bill, a food desert community is a municipality or area of the state where residents have limited access to supermarkets, grocery stores, and farmers markets.
“The markets will allow residents to purchase fresh, healthy produce at a reasonable cost,” said Murphy (D-Burlington). “When people are able to get fresh fruit and vegetables right in their community, they are more likely to purchase them.”
Food at the market would be supplied by one or more partnering providers approved by the Department of Agriculture. These providers would be required to:
• Accept cash, credit, debit, and food vouchers for produce at any market operating under the program
• Offer reduced price produce packages
• Include recipes using the produce as well as storage guidelines detailing how to keep produce fresh
• Donate excess produce from the markets to local food banks and nonprofit organizations for distribution to the needy
Providers would work with local public schools and community organizations to operate the markets.
“Food insecurity is not just a local issue, it is a national issue,” said Verrelli (D-Hunterdon and Mercer). “Through this pilot, we want to show families that healthy, nutritious meals can be within their reach.”
The bill is modeled after “Produce in a SNAP” — a series of community markets, supported by the Hungry Harvest food rescue program, which sells low-cost produce in food deserts throughout Baltimore.
Introduced in October as part of Speaker Craig Coughlin’s anti-hunger bill package, the legislation now heads to the Governor’s desk.