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USDA Expanding Program To Fight Rural Poverty

"On an acre of land, through these programs you could make more growing vegetables than you could doing row crops," he said.

In addition to increasing profits for farmers, specialty vegetable gardens of the type Harris operates could help reduce obesity rates in poor counties by increasing residents' access to better-quality healthy foods, Vilsack said.

In Sumter County, 74 percent of adults are considered overweight or obese, compared to South Carolina's overall rate of 67.4 percent.

"The key to nutrition is access to foods that are healthy and nutritionally dense," Vilsack said. If farmers grow more of their own fruits and vegetables, he said, "people don't have to rely on a convenience store that has a very limited set of offerings."

South Carolina has been considering asking the USDA for a waiver to allow the state to restrict food stamp recipients to certain purchases with the aim of encouraging healthier eating. Vilsack said his agency was also looking at ways to encourage people to eat better, such as discounting some purchases for food stamp recipients but subsidizing the transactions so that retailers get paid full price.

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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