Through a new program at the Denton Community Market, participants in Denton County Public Health’s Women, Infants and Children nutrition program, or WIC, now have access to more locally grown vegetables and fruits.
WIC participants — who include pregnant women, young mothers and young children at nutritional risk — already receive benefits such as food packages with items that may include milk, eggs, beans, infant formula, cereal and more. Because of a new partnership between Denton County’s WIC department and the Denton Community Market, WIC participants now have access to vouchers that can be redeemed at the weekly market for fresh fruits and vegetables, grown by North Texas farmers.
Each WIC participant is eligible for one booklet of vouchers, good during the market's season from April through October. A booklet contains five vouchers, each redeemable for $6 of produce from a participating vendor.
Although not every vendor attends every Saturday market day, up to 11 different vendors accept WIC vouchers in exchange for their produce.
“A nice benefit of participating in WIC is the extra fruits and vegetables that are available to them at the market,” said Kathleen Oliver, Denton County Public Health’s program director of WIC. She said with the implementation of the voucher program, “we’re hoping we reach all of the eligible participants.”
Vicki Oppenheim, executive director of the nonprofit that runs the Denton Community Market and a market co-founder, says so far the market has received a total of 400 voucher booklets to distribute. Her team has been handing out an average of 15 booklets per week to WIC participants since the program launched in April.
“The system we’ve developed is working,” Oppenheim said.
The voucher system works through a process. WIC participants receive the booklets from the Denton Community Market booth during a market day and redeem the vouchers for produce through vendors; vendors turn the vouchers back over to market officials; and then those officials send the vouchers to the U.S. Department of Agriculture; and vendors and farmers get reimbursed for their produce thereafter.
“We tried to get on as soon as we could,” said Jon McKee, a farmer from Babylove’s Farm in McKinney, one of the vendors accepting WIC vouchers at the community market. “It just seemed like a good thing to do.”
He said this past week, he redeemed about a dozen vouchers, adding that it seems the WIC participants he’s met are seemingly buying “everything.”
“Whatever we have, they’re using it,” he said behind his booth stocked with okra, bell peppers, eggplants and more.
With this being the WIC program's first year at the community market, there is not yet funding to support staff hours for running the program, according to Oppenheim She said she's hopeful they'll soon receive funding from a USDA grant that market officials applied for. But the grant is competitive, she said, and until they find the funding for the program, they are left running it partly on goodwill.
“The market took this on and we’re doing this because we want to do it,” Oppenheim said. “We are definitely underfunded all around. Our market is growing and we are offering more and more services for the community, and we have had to put in volunteer hours — not that they are all volunteer hours — but ultimately we do need more funding as an organization to continue doing all of these things that we’re doing.”
For the WIC vouchers, Oppenheim said they plan to keep the program going.
“We’re very pleased; the farmers are very pleased; the customers have really enjoyed it,” she said. “It’s a good partnership we’ve had and we hope it’ll continue next year.”
KYLE MARTIN can be reached at email@example.com.
FEATURED PHOTO: Rhonda Parr of Brushy Creek Farms in Montague stands behind her vendor booth at the Denton Community Market on Saturday morning. She is one of several vendors at the market who now accept WIC vouchers to be redeemed for fresh fruits and vegetables — a new program at the community market. (Kyle Martin/DRC)