Fruit and vegetable incentive a lemon?

If you pass through the intersection of University Avenue and the Martha Mitchell Expressway in Pine Bluff, you might see a billboard reminding us that one in five children suffer from hunger. Limited access to proper nutrition is one of the major stumbling blocks in our nation’s continuing efforts to combat poverty.

A cornerstone of any balanced diet rests in fruits and vegetables. These items should be eaten more than any other food category. For a large segment of the American populous this is problematic. Apart from the fact that many families make poor food choices — either out of habit, indifference, cost or alleged convenience — fruits and vegetables just don’t make their way to the American dinner table in the way they should. This crisis is particularly acute among the poor.

An element of the just-passed congressional farm bill, the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive program could help rectify that increasing problem. The main mechanism of the program is to provide SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka Food Stamp) recipients with cash incentives when they make better dietary choices. Noble as this may be, the program is fraught with vague language, unspecific parameters and the potential for gross misuse.

The SNAP incentive concept was developed through farmers markets in several states. These local incentive programs gave shoppers bonus funds when they purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, food-producing plants, and other farmers’ market items. This way, SNAP participants would increase their fresh produce consumption while providing more support to local family farmers. This approach has proven very popular with both customers and farmers.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, “Congress’ version will provide $100 million of grants, spread over five years, to provide incentives to encourage produce purchases. But before any money gets doled out, the law must go through the rulemaking process.”

That last sentence is where these best laid plans are poised to go terribly awry. Rulemaking is how pizza was classified as a vegetable. As the CSM report indicates, there are no definitions as to what constitutes “locally grown produce” or what kind of retailers might be eligible to participate. Under the proposed rules, apples grown in China and sold at a Sam’s Wholesale Club might qualify.

Beyond this, the exact amount of benefit is also a mystery. Senate Agriculture Committee chair Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) referred to the program as “doubling” produce purchases, but the actual farm bill language specifies no particular amount.

In short there’s a very large hole in our collective fruit basket. We’d like it to be a cornucopia of nutritional bounty that benefits both American farmers and our poorest citizens. As of now, our hopes are guarded.

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Last month we reported the theft of Frank Almond’s 1715 Stradivarius violin. During the theft the concert master of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, was pushed down, shot with a stun gun and the violin ripped from his hands.

The violin, worth some $5 million, was found overnight Wednesday in a suitcase in a Milwaukee attic, police told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Thursday. Milwaukee police had a day earlier arrested three people, one of whom had a record of art theft-related arrests.

As we observed earlier, there are only 650 Stradivarius violins in existence. This fact makes them difficult for thieves to sell without arousing suspicion.

“It emphasizes the fact that you cannot get rid of these instruments,” Bruno Price, a New York-based expert on rare instruments, told the U. K. newspaper, The Guardian. “It’s impossible to resell them – so it’s a silly crime to even try.”

All-too-rare is the happy ending in these kinds of cases. We’re ecstatic that the good guys came out on top.