Farmers and low-income families in Central New York continue to benefit from a program aimed at encouraging people to buy fresh, local produce. New York State recently received its largest-in-the-nation allocation of 3.4 million dollars for the Farmer's Market Nutrition Program. In this two part series, we examine the nutritional and economic impacts of the program.
Cash is not the only type of currency exchanged over the booths at Central New York farmer’s markets. Many low-income families are also using government provided checks to purchase fresh produce from throughout the region. The checks are available to families enrolled in the Women, Infants and Children program, and Onondaga County WIC program Coordinator Mary-Lee Moore Twardowski says the county’s allotment of booklets goes fast.
“It is a very popular program among our participants. They really look forward to them and begin asking about them towards the end of winter. It is a great way to get people out to the markets and see what is available.”
The booklets are worth twenty-four dollars and can be used to buy fresh fruits and vegetables at farmer’s markets instead of the grocery store. CNY Regional Market Manager Gino Elemos says the checks encourage people to eat healthier.
"You can actually come here and ask the vendor exactly when they picked the strawberries. They can say 'Oh, I just picked this yesterday.' And you can ask them what kind of pesticide they used and if they used any pesticide. You can’t get any closer to your food than that.”
The checks can be used from June to November, and can be picked up at local WIC clinics.
C-N-Y Farmer’s markets are busy this time of year with customers looking for local products, including locally grown produce. C-N-Y Regional Market Manager Gino Elemos says some farmers at these markets see a lot of revenue coming from government assistance programs.
“Years ago you could only use them in the grocery stores. But now you can use them in the farmer’s markets. A lot of the farmers depend on those coupons, not just the WIC but a lot of government generated coupons. It really helps them a lot.”
Elemos says some vendors use money they earn from government assistance sales to lease space at the markets. Linda Hahn of Hahn Farms says a good portion of her profits come from these checks.
“15 or 20 percent of what we do is the checks. Normally the people that have the checks wouldn’t come to the market if they didn’t have the checks because a lot of times they don’t have any other money besides the checks.”
Hahn says the checks completely benefit local farmers because you have to be a certified farmer, not simply a dealer, to receive the checks.