WIC’s Farmers Market Nutrition Program

Written by Andrea Kemple, University of Minnesota Nutrition Student

People who purchase their foods from local farmers’ markets know at least one of the benefits of such a decision.  Maybe this purchasing decision is based on the fact that food purchased locally is fresher and more nutritious than store-bought food, or the fact that buying direct from farmers supports the local economy, or maybe people who buy local do so to reduce their carbon footprint since the typical American food product travels on average of 3000 miles to the homes of consumers.  Whatever the reason, one can’t deny that there are many benefits to buying local foods.  However, there is a preconceived idea that farmers’ markets are for an exclusive clientele and that people who are at lower income levels can’t afford to shop at farmers’ markets.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  There is a program that helps low-income mothers and their young children take advantage of the many benefits from local foods.

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) is a federally funded program that was started in 1992 under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (more popularly known as WIC).  WIC provides supplemental foods for low-income women who are pregnant and post-partum (both breastfeeding and non breastfeeding) and their children from infancy to age five who are considered at nutritional risk.

In Minnesota, almost 48,000 WIC recipients utilized this program in 2009.  With over 300 farmers and 48 farmers markets participating in the FMNP in Minnesota, it benefits both the farmers and the consumers.  The consumers get the benefits of buying fresh and nutritious food, and the farmers get compensated by federal grant money specifically for this program.  This program also aims to raise awareness of local farmers’ markets and boost sales at these locations.

There are some restrictions within this program.  FMNP recipients have to shop from authorized markets and vendors.  These vendors should have a special sign posted to identify themselves as FMNP authorized vendors (this year they are yellow, but the color changes from year to year).  Also, the FMNP vouchers can only be used to purchase locally grown vegetables, fruits, and herbs.  This means that although some vendors may sell products from other states (such as peaches from California, for example), FMNP vouchers cannot be used for such products.  The vouchers also cannot be used to purchase eggs, meats, poultry, honey, flowers, bread, or juice.

Although the restrictions seem intimidating, this couldn’t be further from the truth! There is an abundance of variety in any Minnesota Farmers’ market for vegetables and fruits.  There is no better way to experience new foods than at a farmers’ market; there are so many resources for education at your fingertips!  One can ask the vendors about their products regarding selection, seasonal availability, and even preparation ideas.  Another resource available at the Mill City Farmers’ Market to get preparation ideas is the tasting booth, which is available on one Saturday per month.

The main point is that there is opportunity for everyone to purchase fresh and local foods from farmers’ markets, no matter what their income level.  To get more information regarding the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program or if you are a farmer that is interested in becoming an authorized vendor, visit http://www.fns.usda.gov/wic/FMNP/FMNPfaqs.htm.