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Iowa Farmers Market Nutrition Program feeds WIC clients


Next month the farmers markets will return to Greater Des Moines. Fresh early-season produce from local growers, international cuisine, baked goods and crafts will line the streets. The Downtown Farmers Market opens at 7 a.m. May 10, and the Valley Junction Farmers Market opens at 4 p.m. May 15. The Iowa Department of Agriculture and Land Stewardship has a special program called the Iowa Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which strives to improve the health of low-income women, infants and children by providing nutritious foods to supplement their diets. Nationwide, more than 2 million recipients of Women, Infants and Children Program aid received farmers’ market benefits in 2001. The Business Record spoke with Margaret Long, program administrator, and Machelle Shaffer, communications director, of the Iowa Farmers Market Nutrition Program about the system.

Q: What is the purpose of the Farmers Market Nutrition Program?

A: Our program has two major purposes. The first is to provide Iowa-grown fresh fruits and vegetables to women, infants and children who are nutritionally at risk — those in the WIC program. The second is to expand awareness of farmers markets as another place where people can go for fresh produce. Participants get a chance to eat fresh, healthy food, and vendors get to go out into the community and help while selling produce.

Q: What preparations are being made for the upcoming farmers markets?

A: All the vendors have to be certified and trained. We do training sessions every year. Vendors have to fill out applications and every fourth year must attend training again. Now we’re going through the paperwork and looking at applications. We have to make stall signs identifying each vendor as someone who can accept the [program food voucher] checks. We have to take care of printing the checks. In October we work on our grant application, and in November, we submit it to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They let us know how much we will get [in the spring]. Then we find out how much funding is available and how many people we can serve. We receive state funding as well. Once we know what our funding for the year is, we can determine which counties will be included in program.

Q: Who is eligible for the program?

A: All of the women in WIC program are eligible. The program isn’t statewide yet because we don’t have sufficient funding to cover all of Iowa. We examine each county. We look at the number of vendors to determine whether a market is sufficient to support eligible participants in that area. The program is active in about 60 counties statewide. For more information, visit our Web site at www.agriculture.state.ia.us or call (515) 281-5321.

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