Buried within the 959 pages of farm bill text, changes have been made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that not only benefit low-income families, but, potentially local farmers, too.
In a report released by the USDA in March, the agency cited “further efforts to increase fruit and vegetable consumption by children” as their reason for increasing Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) cash value vouchers (CVVs) for children from $6 to $8 per month.
Karla Hynes, WIC/Maternal Child Health director at Women, Infants and Children, said the increase does not cover all of a child’s needs for fresh produce, but “it helps.”
Hynes said WIC works to promote eating fresh fruits and vegetables produced by local farmers. For the months of June, July and August, WIC recipients also receive a $27 voucher through WIC’s Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program (WIC FMNP) in addition to their monthly cash vouchers.
According to the USDA, WIC’s Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program was established by Congress in 1992 to provide fresh unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to WIC participants, and expand the awareness, use of, and sales at farmers’ markets.
However, until now, access to the farmers’ market vouchers were limited.
“This is the first year all of our counties (Madison, Adams, Taylor, Union, Ringgold, Adair, Page, Decatur and Clarke) are issuing the (farmers’ market) vouchers,” said Hynes.
Hynes said she is thrilled the program helps local producers.
“You can taste the difference,” said Hynes. “It (produce) is farm-fresh and so much better and healthier for you.”
Benefit for local farmers
Some of the money issued to WIC program participants is trickling into the pockets of local producers.
At Creston Farmers’ Market, some producers accept WIC, USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or both.
One difference between WICs CVVs (for in-store use) and WIC FMNP vouchers (for farmers’ markets) is that CVVs limit program participants to certain foods, which exclude most certified natural and organic fruit and vegetables. However, in addition to WIC’s FMNP vouchers, SNAP also allows their recipients to spend their benefits at local farmers’ markets.
Hynes said as more farmers become aware of the program and more WIC participants discover the farmers’ markets, there is a lot of potential to increase business while benefitting the health of others.
Denny Wimmer of Arispe, who sells certified, naturally-grown fruits and vegetables, started accepting WIC FMNP vouchers in 2013. Wimmer said the vouchers have contributed to approximately 10 percent of his sales and thinks the program is a good benefit to local farmers.
Dale and Tyler Raasch of Bridgewater Farms are currently working on obtaining a machine (similar to a credit card machine) to accept SNAP cards. Through SNAP, the Raaschs are able to sell more of their certified organic poultry and eggs, and naturally-grown pork and beef.
“It’s definitely good for us,” said Tyler Raasch.