Bill To Expand Availability Of Fresh Produce In Urban Areas Advances

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TRENTON — Legislation to create a statewide mobile farmers’ market network and fresh produce voucher program to increase produce access for resident’s of New Jersey’s so-called urban “food deserts” was released Monday by the Assembly Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee.

Under the bill (A-3688) the state Department of Agriculture would be required to establish a statewide mobile farmer’s market and fresh produce voucher program, to be known as the “New Jersey Fresh Mobiles Initiative,” designed to provide improved access to fresh produce for low-income residents of the state’s urban communities, the so-called “food deserts.”

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Specifically, the department would be required to:

  • Develop, annually review for accuracy and make available to the public a map that identifies the location and boundaries of every urban food desert in the state;
  • Issue licenses or permits, as necessary, to individuals who wish to become mobile vendors;
  • Establish standards, qualifications and conditions for the mobile vendors to ensure the freshness and quality of the produce;
  • Designate one or more vendor supply areas to be utilized for vendor sales in each urban food desert, to ensure a high level of accessibility for the community;
  • Authorize mobile vendors to purchase and utilize food trucks or other mobile venues for the distribution of their goods;
  • Create an inspection and approval or permitting process for said mobile venues, to ensure their sanitation and safety;
  • Develop educational and informational materials on nutrition for distribution to consumers;
  • Establish seasonal purchasing incentives to encourage consumer participation in the program and to familiarize consumers with what types of fresh produce are available at different points in a season; and
  • Establish and regulate a fresh produce voucher program through which discount vouchers would be issued to low-income residents to help them purchase fresh fruits and vegetables from mobile vendors.

A resident of an urban food desert would be entitled to a fresh produce voucher only if their household income is less than 185 percent of federal poverty income guidelines; they are currently receiving Social Security income; or are enrolled in the federal food stamp assistance program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program; the federal WIC program; the New Jersey Supplemental Food Stamp Program; Work First New Jersey; or any other federal or state nutrition or income assistance program.

Finally, the measure would require the Department of Agriculture to establish and maintain a “New Jersey Fresh Mobiles Operation Fund,” to:

  • Provide financing for the fresh produce voucher program;
  • Advertise and promote the program;
  • Develop and distribute educational materials about the program;
  • Finance studies necessary to ensure the continued accuracy of the department’s urban food desert map; and
  • Offset the costs of establishing, regulating the program.

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