New York City offers a wealth of farmers markets throughout the boroughs, but for many New Yorkers, they are still too inaccessible or unaffordable. Luckily, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Speaker Christine Quinn have announced a new program that will change that and give less wealthy NYCers on food stamps a healthful break for both their wallets and kitchens. The program will reward shoppers who use food stamps at the city’s 138 farmers markets by giving them coupons for free produce.

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All of the city’s farmers markets now accept Health Bucks coupons, which allow New Yorkers who receive food stamps to redeem them for fresh fruits and vegetables. For every $5 spent, shoppers will then receive a voucher good for $2 of free fruits and vegetables valid at any of the city’s markets. The program, which started this week and will run through November, is expected to result in $350,000 of free fresh fruits and vegetables given away to participants.

According to Mayor Bloomberg, who says he snacks on fresh carrots, cucumbers and radishes constantly, the expansion of the Health Bucks program will expand accessibility to fresh produce, reduce the consumption of junk food and help combat the obesity epidemic in New York City. City officials revealed statistics claiming that the percentage of adult New Yorkers who go a day without eating fresh fruits or vegetables is on an overall downward trajectory, but residents in low-income neighborhoods still eat fresh food less frequently than residents living in more expensive neighborhoods.

With one in three New Yorkers either suffering from diabetes or pre-diabetic, the hope is that more healthful eating habits can trickle down to NYC’s youth. Despite New York’s reputation as a healthy city where walking and public transportation reign, the percentage of children ages six to 11 who are obese is actually higher than the national average. Could produce trucked in from upstate’s incredible farms and orchards help make a difference? As in the case of the mayor’s plan to ban the sale of large-sized sugary drinks, the intentions are good, but the results will not be known for some time.

Via Eco Anchor NYC,

Photos courtesy Wikipedia (Postdlf), Harvest Home