May 14, 2012

Farmers market benefit programs explained

In my job, I spend a good part of the spring tracking down all the farmers markets in the Adirondack region.

The rising popularity of farmers markets — up nearly 25 percent over 2011 — demands that we keep our information current and accessible. There are plenty of places to find local, fresh food this year.

As I compile the information about the markets I have to pay special attention to documenting benefit programs in which the markets may participate. There are currently three types: Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) checks, Women, Infants and Children Vegetables and Fruits Check Program (WIC VF), and Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards. Because these three excellent programs are often under used at the farmers markets, I wanted to clarify them and encourage anyone who qualifies to make the most of the benefits.

The FMNP program has been in use at the markets for the longest period of time. It was established by Congress in 1992, to "provide fresh, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to WIC participants, and to expand the awareness, use of, and sales at farmers' markets".

These benefits are not to be confused with the WIC VF checks, which I will cover later in this column; these are part of a Special Supplemental Nutrition Program within WIC. Families who qualify for and participate in the WIC program are issued a packet of checks to use throughout the season specified for use to purchase local produce. New York State has nearly 4 million dollars in grant funds allocated towards FMNP checks — the largest allocation in the country.

Senior citizens may also be issued packets of FMNP checks. To determine if they are eligible to receive these checks, seniors should contact their local Office for the Aging.

These checks are a wonderful opportunity to increase the purchase and consumption of fresh, local food in our region. In 2011, 77 percent of the senior checks were redeemed in the tri-county area, but only 50 percent of those isseud to WIC recipients. If you are a recipient of these benefits, be sure to get to your farmers market and collect your produce.

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