In the past two years, the number of people receiving food stamps has gone up by 10 million. I read a piece before the holidays, I can’t remember where now, that said grocery stores are beginning to change how they do business to accommodate food stamp users because they have become a large portion of their shoppers.

Stores are now actively stocking the isles with the foods that food stamp recipients buy most on the last day of the month to be able to handle the influx of shoppers who come the next day, sometimes right after midnight, when their food stamp cards get replenished with money. By the end of the month, many people who use food stamps are running very low on food and shop as soon as they have the funds again.

One way that food stamp recipients can stretch their food stamp dollars is to use them to purchase seeds and plants. According to the United States Agricultural Department’s eligible food items page, food stamps can be used for “seeds and plants which produce food for the household to eat.”

I wonder how many food stamp recipients realize this? Edible plants can be grown anywhere. You don’t need a backyard, although more and more food stamp recipients are people who have backyards. Container gardens can be grown on fire escapes and balconies. Herbs can be grown on windowsills. Neighbors with little room could trade vegetables — your tomatoes for my green beans. The money spent on the seeds or plants can be stretched throughout the entire growing season.

Food stamps won’t pay for soil or containers, however. That is one obstacle that food stamp recipients might face in growing their own fruits or vegetables. One solution for this could be for forward-thinking business that accept food stamps and sell edible plants to sell them in containers that are big enough for the plants to grow into. Already established plants have to come in containers, and the food stamps would pay for that. 

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Purchase seeds and plants with food stamps
Get the biggest bang for your food stamp buck by growing your own.