STLFPC Spotlight on Brian DeSmet of the Fair Food Network
What part of the food system do you work on?
The Fair Food Network focuses on eliminating food insecurity. The program I’m working on, Double Up Food Bucks, works on food insecurity, as well as local and regional food. Double Up Food Buck is an incentive program for SNAP recipients to get extra money for fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and grocery stores. The program was designed with local food in mind. The idea is that it is a win-win-win; it provides extra money for low income shoppers, local farmers and the local economy.
What other organizations in STL does your organization work with on food issues?
I work very closely with East West Gateway. One of their sustainability planners is working outreach for our program as well. We work closely with all the farmers markets in the program, Schnucks Grocery Stores. MU Extension nutrition educators, Operation Food Search helps get the word out as well as St. Louis Food Bank.
Any projects in the works?
Double Up Food Bucks is the main one. We greatly expanded the program a month ago with the Schnucks extension and we are working to keep momentum up. Hopefully, this will lead to a lot more usage from SNAP recipients.We were just given free advertising in free bus ads. We are also trying to get produce from International Institute in farmers markets and corner stores.We are always looking for more partnership. Another thing we are working on is expanding the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) which gives seniors get $16 a year to spend at farmers market. Kansas has doubled it to 32 and we’d like to do something similar here in St. Louis.
Where do you see the future of STL’s food system?
The food system of St. Louis is fragmented, which is something our region has issues with in general. The region’s fragmentation affects the food system as much as everything else. We need something more holistic. The St. Louis Food Policy Coalition is trying. However, there are still a lot of people not at the table. There are multiple groups working on urban agriculture as an income generating project such as New Roots Urban Farm and EarthDance Farm. Lots of projects that could be scaled up. This region is ripe for a lot more urban agriculture since we have so much vacant land.
Additionally, there needs to be an organization that works on farmers markets together. Farmers end up selling more places and making less money. I would love to see a farmers market coalition.
What do you do outside of your job that supports the local food system?
I use to run farmers markets. I am on the board of Slow Food St. Louis. We award Grower Grants to farms and gardens and other people to expand biodiversity. I am the leader of the Garlic Project. We give out garlic for people to grow in gardens and schools. Garlic is amazing. You only have to weed once in February and once in April. It is easy to grow and has tremendous expanding capability. It can be grown anywhere, however, most of the garlic in the world comes from California and China. Why are we growing it there when it is so easy to grow elsewhere? We want it to be grown on the scale that we could sell it commercially. Although I am about to move to Kansas City, I have been training other people to continue along the project.