The Farmers Market Nutrition Program

February 22, 2013

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By: Amber Jekot, Food Planning Task Force Organizer

The Texas Hunger Initiative and Bethel Erickson-Bruce with the Waco Downtown Farmers Market have been in conversation with the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA) about the possibility of bringing the Farmers Market Nutrition Program to the city of Waco. 

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program provides vouchers to WIC eligible women and children for fruits and veggies that can be redeemed at a TDA approved Farmers Market. Vouchers of a $20 value are provided as an addendum to the actual amount of WIC money allotted per client.  These vouches can help encourage healthy consumption for Texas’ women and children.  TDA would partner with a local non-profit called a contracting entity and a Farmers Market Association to implement the FMNP.

We believe this program would be an asset for the Waco community.  Fresh produce helps meet the nutritional needs of children during their most crucial period of brain development – the first 1000 days of their life.  Proper nutrition also sets the stage for better education outcomes for our children.  This program is also an effective way to encourage small businesses/small farmers and generates more funds to our local economy – one of the Food Planning Task Force’s work group strategies. 

In Tarrant County, Fort Worth, the Farmers Market Association made $53,000 for only 9 produce distributions. The farmers shared that they often made more money selling to WIC clinics for 2 ½ hours than they did selling at the local farmers market all weekend.  Our hope is to provide Waco’s farmers with this same opportunity.

Although this is not something THI and the Waco Downtown Farmers Market are able to pursue at this point, we think this program would be a huge asset to WIC recipients, farmers, and the local economy.  Our hope is that the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program will flourish in Waco in the near future.

Special thanks to Jeremy Everett, Eric Weeden, Kathy Krey, Shamethia Webb, Doug McDurham, and Bethel Erickson-Bruce for their efforts to bring such a promising program to Waco, Texas.

 

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Doritos and Pepsi? Or Local Produce? What Do Food Insecure People Really Want to Eat?

February 12, 2013

By: Amber Jekot, Food Planning Task Force Organizer

The Food Planning Task Force of McLennan County is currently finalizing its strategic plan for alleviating hunger in Waco and McLennan County.  We are a well-intentioned group that recognizes that we don’t have all of the answers, so in order to ensure that the wide-ranging voices of the community are being heard, we’ve begun using Community Input Boards to collect feedback from community members and those who are experiencing food insecurity.

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I had the unique opportunity to take these boards to Waco’s Project Homeless Connect on January 31st and ask attendees their advice on how the Waco community could better serve them.

Project Homeless Connect is an annual event that allows individuals and families who are experiencing homelessness and/or poverty to come to one location and receive a variety of local services.  Haircuts, dental care, veteran’s services, and federal benefits outreach were among the many services offered this year.  The feedback the Food Planning Task Force received from participants was invaluable.

Since the prevailing image of SNAP (formerly known as food stamps) seems to be a grocery cart spilling over with sodas, sugary processed foods, candy, and Doritos, I was elated to collect anecdotal evidence that highlights that those who receive federal assistance and who are homeless actually do desire to eat healthy foods.

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I was floored by the responses.  Every attendee I spoke with about the food they received from pantries and other aid programs shared that they wanted more vegetables and fresh food. One participant remarked: “We want real vegetables, not those canned ones.”

Another woman approached me and self-identified as morbidly obese, explaining that she knew she needed to eat better but was constrained by her financial situation. She explained: “I have two children, a bum leg, and all I can afford are processed foods and carbs.” 

Research shows that obesity is a growing trend among America’s poor. It would appear that much of the food that’s available to low-income people contribute to this phenomenon. 

What I gathered from conversations I had with participants at Project Homeless Connect was that obesity was a result of the high cost of food not simply a person’s desire to consume unhealthy food.

Relatedly, the Waco Downtown Farmer’s Market recently installed an EBT machine that accepts SNAP dollars. Many scoffed at the idea that SNAP recipients would want fresh fruit and vegetables. Yet, naysayers may be surprised to learn that there are SNAP recipients who actually let their SNAP dollars roll over in order to save up for fresh, local produce.

Attendees of Project Homeless Connect were excited about the opportunity to use SNAP at the farmer’s market as well, and I was pleased to have heard so many incredible stories that debunked the stereotype of Waco’s food insecure.