Laurie Crawford, Project Reach
The Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) provides Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children, more commonly known as WIC, participants with vouchers to purchase locally grown, fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs every year during the growing season from June to November. The goal of FMNP is to expand accessibility of fresh nutritious produce among WIC recipients and increase awareness and utilization of farmer’s markets. FMNP is a national program that was established by Congress in 1992 to act as a supplement for eligible WIC recipients including women, children 1 to 5 years old, and infants over 4 months old. Each eligible participant receives four $6 vouchers, which can be redeemed at state approved farmer’s markets and grocery stores. In Pennsylvania, FMNP vouchers can be picked up at each county’s WIC clinic.
One of the main goals of the Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health (REACH) team is to promote health equity and promote healthy nutrition. In 2018, the FMNP voucher redemption rate among WIC recipients in Lebanon County dropped from 39.80% in 2017 to 34.80%, which was much lower than the overall Pennsylvania voucher redemption rate for WIC recipients of 40.45%. To uplift and promote FMNP among WIC recipients in Lebanon the Penn State REACH team partnered with Lebanon Family Health Services (LFHS). In 2019, the REACH team surveyed 100 WIC recipients at LFHS to identify the most common barriers to redeem FMNP vouchers. We offered this survey and all our interventions in both English and Spanish.
Based on our survey, 47% of participants selected that increasing the number of voucher eligible marketplaces and 27% of participants selected having a greater variety of fruits and vegetables would improve the FMNP program in Lebanon. There were 14 survey participants that also supported improvements to increase awareness of available seasonal produce meaning that participants were interested in learning what fruits and vegetables grew during each month in the summer and fall. Additionally, 13% of participants selected text or phone reminders to redeem vouchers and 12% of participants selected that having recipes to cook meals with FMNP-approved fruits and vegetables would motivate them to use their vouchers. These survey findings led us to implement a weekly, “grab bag” program in 2020 and 2021 at LFHS so participants could easily and conveniently redeem their vouchers. To organize this program, the REACH team partnered with a local farmer to offer a variety of FMNP-approved produce for $3 and $6 grab bags at the local WIC office. Each grab bag included healthy recipes that included the produce sold at LFHS for participants. In 2021, we also launched a text message and phone reminder intervention to encourage voucher redemption among FMNP WIC participants. This intervention focused on identifying the best way to reminder participants to redeem their vouchers and provide an opportunity for participants to ask questions. As the REACH team enters 2022, we plan to survey FMNP participants to gage interest in a Community Sustainable Agriculture Program, where participants will be able to exchange their vouchers for produce boxes and pick them up at community sites. We hope to continue to work alongside LFHS to improve FMNP voucher redemption rates and create sustainable interventions to improve access to fresh and nutritious foods in Lebanon County.
Please reach out to Laurie Crawford for more information about the REACH project.
Please reach out to Vicki Deloatch for more information about Lebanon Family Health Services and the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program