National Farmersí Market Week
Mark Zotti, Bureau of Agricultural Development and Resource Preservation
August 4-10, 2013, is National Farmersí Market Week. There is no better way to celebrate such an occasion than to visit one of Connecticutís 125 farmersí markets.
Farmersí markets are regularóusually weeklyócommunity-based events that celebrate local food, farm products, and agriculture while supporting local jobs and the local economy. This time of year, most farmers are in peak production and markets offer the widest array of locally produced farm products. Whether one is looking for a quick one-stop shopping experience or a way to spend a few hours, there is a market to fit his or her needs. A complete listing of 2013 Connecticut farmersí markets is available at www.CTGrown.gov.
Over the past 10 years, coinciding with the nationwide trends, Connecticut has seen the number of farmersí markets nearly double. This year, Connecticut boasts 125 farmers markets in 100 communities. Driving much of the success behind these markets is the Connecticut Department of Agriculture (DoAg)ís Farmersí Market Nutrition Program (FMNP). This supplemental nutrition program provides checks to eligible clients to purchase fruits and vegetables at participating farmersí markets. The program consists of three components designed for three specific population groups: women, infants, and children (WIC); seniors; and families.
WIC FMNP benefits are provided to eligible clients enrolled in the Connecticut Department of Public Healthís state WIC program. This special supplemental nutrition program is for at-risk, low-income women, infants, and children up to age 5.
Twenty-five local WIC offices provide WIC FMNP checks, nutritional education, and other supplemental nutrition programs to eligible clients. In 2013, DoAg provided 50,003 WIC clients with WIC FMNP benefits, which consisted of one FMNP check booklet of five $3 checks per eligible client, for a total of $15 per year.
The Senior FMNP provides benefits to individuals 60 years of age or older with a maximum household income of not more than 185 percent of the annual poverty income guidelines. (The 2013 Senior FMNP annual income limit for an individual is $21,257.) The seniorís income level must be verified through other assistance programs with similar means testing to verify eligibility; applicants with income levels not identified by means testing are not provided FMNP checks.
Senior FMNP benefits are distributed by municipal social services and elderly service coordinators. Due to limited funding, not all municipalities offer these benefits. In addition, the program is limited to municipalities with one or more participating FMNP authorized farmersí markets.
Senior FMNP benefit levels vary each year; in 2013, 32,000 eligible Senior FMNP participants will receive six $3 checks for a total yearly benefit of $18. Seniors interested in this program should contact their municipal social services office.
The Family FMNP is the newest component of the FMNP, created in 2012 when the Connecticut Housing and Finance Authority approached DoAg about partnering on a new supplemental nutrition program for their clients. Family FMNP participants live in CHFA housing and have children between the ages of 5 and 18. After a successful pilot in 2012, CHFA and DoAg are excited to offer this program again in 2013, and look forward to building off of the programís early success.
The Family FMNP is different from the WIC and Senior programs because it provides a monthly benefit for July, August, and September, allowing the 1,806 families served to shop at Connecticut farmersí markets throughout the peak season. The concept of monthly FMNP benefits is new but has received rave reviews from participants.
Benefit rates vary from year to year; in 2013, eligible families are receiving $36 dollars for each of the three months, for a total yearly benefit of $108 per eligible family.
As a whole, the FMNP saw the highest redemption amount in 2012 since the programís inception. Certified farmers statewide redeemed over $906,000 worth of FMNP benefits.
In order for a farmersí market to participate in the FMNP, the market must meet the requirements of a certified farmersí market as per Connecticut General Statutes Section 22-6r, and must require any farmer selling a fruit, vegetable, or honey to be trained/certified by DoAg staff prior to acceptance into that market.
The training/certification consists of an initial on-farm meeting, during which DoAg staff reviews the rules of the program and explains how the program works. Certifications are good for three years. Currently, more than 250 certified farmers can accept FMNP benefits at 108 participating markets.
The FMNP is the prominent supplemental nutrition program administered through farmersí markets. Much its prominence and success can be attributed to the fact that the FMNP checks can only be used at participating farmersí markets.
Many FMNP benefits recipients also receive benefits from other supplemental nutrition programs, including the WIC Fruit and Vegetable Check Program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formally known as food stamps). These other program benefits may be redeemed by participating farmers at many Connecticutís farmersí markets as well. While redemption of these other program benefits at farmersí markets has increased, it is limited because these benefits also can be used at supermarkets and other retail establishments.
Outreach and education is being offered by local coordinating agencies, farmersí markets, and farmers to show recipients the advantages of shopping for and consuming locally produced farm products. With these efforts, DoAg and other administering state agencies are hopeful clients will increase their consumption of locally produced foods with the government benefits provided to them.
For a complete listing of Connecticut farmersí markets and the supplemental nutrition programs in which they participate, please visit www.CTGrown.gov.