The Rapidian

WIC participants now have easier access to fresh fruits, vegetables

This summer, more fresh produce is available to members of WIC and WIC Project FRESH. The entirely digital Kent County Farmers Market Pilot Program makes it easy to access their benefits at any of the 26 participating farmers markets.
The new Farmers Market Pilot Program makes it easier for WIC participants to get fresh produce

The new Farmers Market Pilot Program makes it easier for WIC participants to get fresh produce /Laura Chittenden

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About the Kent County Farmers Market Pilot Program

Quick overview of the new pilot

The Kent County Farmers Market Pilot Program has been launched by the Michigan Department of Community Health WIC Division, being run by the Kent County Health Department. WIC is a federal assistance program of the Food and Nutrition Service of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The program aims to serve mothers of young children up to age five considered to be at nutritional risk as determined by a health professional based on federal guidelines. Eligible participants earn 185% of the poverty line, that is, those whose income is a little less than double the poverty line amount. Program benefits are determined on a case by case basis. For more informatiion please visit the Kent County WIC website.

Quick overview of Project FRESH

Project FRESH, which is a program administered by the Michigan Department of Community Health (MDCH) in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Michigan State University Extension. Program benefits are given to eligible members who have applied through Local health agencies and MSU Extension offices. For more information please visit the program’s page on the Michigan State University’s website or on the Michigan Department of Community Health website.


Important Caveats

The Kent County Farmers Market Pilot Program applies only to the summer season from June 1 through August 31. Before and after that time period, WIC benefits will once again apply to grocery stores. Project FRESH also applies only to this time period.

Presently, WIC benefits in other counties still only apply to grocery stores. However, WIC participants in these other counties may obtain paper coupons from the Project FRESH program to get fresh fruits and vegetables. Kent County WIC participants, however, will not be able to use their WIC benefits at farmers markets in other counties, because those counties still operate using the paper coupons and cannot process WIC EBT.

Beginning this summer, fresh fruits and vegetables from farmers markets just became easier to get for mothers participating in the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women Infants and Children (WIC) in Kent County.

The WIC program is designed to increase access to healthy foods for low-income mothers of young children. One way is through an income-dependent allotment or purchasing approved foods at grocery stores through their WIC Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.

Previously, WIC Project FRESH was the only means for 750 early birds in the WIC program in Kent County, which has 22,000 participants, to get fresh produce from farmers markets through its first-come, first-served Project FRESH program.

“We’re opening that door a little bit wider,” said Christopher Bendekgey, Kent County’s WIC Supervisor, “we’re allowing that person [a WIC participant] to actually be able to go to the farmers market and not be just held to have to only shop in grocery stores.”  

This is particularly good news to those participants living in inner city food deserts, where healthy affordable food is harder to get. Many farmers markets are situated further from stores such as Meijer, which have large produce selections. The new pilot makes getting fresh produce more affordable and easier to obtain for these WIC participants.

The Kent County Farmers Market Pilot Program is a two-year pilot and each season runs June 1 through August 31. After the the 2013 summer season, the pilot will be evaluated. Later, other counties may engage in the program as well.

Although WIC is a federal assistance program, the new paperless program is the first of its kind in the nation. Selecting Kent County as the pilot site, the Michigan Department of Community Health WIC Division gave charge of the program to the Kent County Health Department (KCHD).

In Michigan, WIC EBT is the WIC Michigan Bridge card. This is not to be confused with the regular Michigan Bridge card which, among other kinds of aid, distributes benefits of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program. However, it is possible for a WIC participant to also be registered with WIC Project FRESH and or SNAP all at the same time.

Last year, WIC participants were issued $1,955,701 in Cash Value Benefits.

“This is money that goes back into our communities -- to our farmers, their employees and their families,” said Cathy Raevsky in a press release, who is the Administrative Health Officer for the Kent County Health Department.

Since the pilot will run three months, about $500,000 of this year’s twelve months worth WIC Cash Value Benefits could potentially be spent at farmers markets which normally would be spent in grocery stores.

Last summer,The KCHD WIC Project FRESH program provided a total of $12,720 to eligible WIC participants who obtained these coupons.

Farmers markets have always been a great source of fresh, nutritious produce. Now, with the Kent County Farmers Market Pilot Project and also the improved WIC Project FRESH program, accessing more of these beneficial foods is as easy as a swipe of a WIC EBT card.

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