WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) aims to improve access to nutritious foods for low-income pregnant women, mothers, and young children. After enrolling in WIC, participants receive monthly checks, vouchers, or transfers to their Electronic Benefit Transaction (EBT) card that are to be used to purchase specific, WIC-approved foods, which provide important nutrients that participants otherwise may lack. WIC funds also support local economies and providing crucial revenue to small farmers. WIC FMNP currently provides fresh produce to more than 1.7 million WIC families, while simultaneously generating $14 million in revenue for 17,926 farmers, 3,390 farmers markets and 2,894 roadside stands.
In 1992, Congress created WIC FMNP in order to achieve two goals: increase WIC participants’ consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables and increase awareness and support of local agriculture. In addition to their monthly WIC benefits, WIC participants four months or older are eligible to receive FMNP checks once a year during farmers market season. 48 State agencies, U.S. Territories and federally recognized Indian Tribal Organizations received grants to operate the FMNP in 2014.
States that choose to participate in FMNP receive funding from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). The program is structured as a Federal/State partnership, and requires participating states to match 30% of the federal funds. FMNP is administered by a state agency, in many cases the Department of Agriculture or Department of Public Health. Federal FMNP benefits must be at least $10 and at most $30 per person per year, though states can opt to supplement the federal FMNP benefit level with state funding. FMNP checks come in packets of $2 or $4, to be used only at WIC-approved farmers markets.
Evidence suggests that the program succeeds in its goal of bringing first-time shoppers to farmers markets. More than 6 in 10 newly enrolled WIC FMNP participants in Wisconsin went to a farmers market for the first time after as a result of the program. WIC FMNP has also supported the development of farmers markets in lower-income neighborhoods, where the program’s funds are a major source of income for farmers who sell at these markets.
In 2013 FMNP funding was cut to $16.8 million, and cut again to $15.3 million–a 24% decrease from the amount initially authorized by Congress. According to some FMC member markets, these cuts directly diminish the incomes of several thousand produce farmers, putting constraints on their ability to continue selling at markets in the low-income neighborhoods that need fresh produce the most. Over 50% of farmers surveyed in Washington state reported that revenue generated by FMNP is a critical factor in determining whether or not to sell at a specific farmers market. Survey results also indicated that if FMNP were eliminated, 54 farmers markets would lose farmers and as many as 300 summer farm jobs would be lost.
Success Varies by State
Some states have achieved redemption rates as high as 85%, despite the range of challenges that WIC recipients face when attempting to access nutritious foods. Successful markets set themselves apart by establishing community partnerships with neighborhood organizations to help facilitate outreach efforts and maximize the impact of WIC FMNP. A survey of 455 FMNP recipients administered by the Michigan Department of Community Health, Michigan Public Health Institute, and Michigan State University found that combining education about the preparation, storage, and nutritional value of fruits and vegetables with the use of coupons was critical to the success of the FMNP in Michigan.
States like Washington, New York, Ohio, and Michigan have successful WIC FMNP programs in part because they have leveraged additional funds for marketing and outreach activities. The success of these states serves as an indicator of the program’s potential to bring healthy food to low-income populations in states that do not currently offer their residents access to WIC FMNP. Cuts to the program in recent years, as well as the 30% state funding match requirement, have limited or altogether halted the adoption of similar education and outreach activities in many states. FMC is committed to reversing this trend, and in so doing ensure that expecting mothers, infants, and young children have the means to access high-quality, nutritious food at their local farmers market.