Summer’s near, and with it comes a bounty of fresh fruits and veggies.
Participants in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program can avail themselves of additional bundles of the produce through the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, part of Montana Farm Direct, which provides locally grown fruit and vegetables to WIC benefits recipients.
More Fresh Food
WIC participants get six $5 coupons to be used at the Great Falls Farmers’ Market at 2 Park Dr. in Great Falls for each season. That’s in addition to regular benefits.
The Farmers’ Market takes place every Saturday from 7:45 a.m. to noon, June through September.
“It’s super easy. They go and pick out what they want and hand over the coupons and then sign them and they’re on their way,” says Michele McCrea, nutrition educator at the Cascade City-County Health Department, which facilitates the WIC voucher program locally.
Approved foods must be locally grown unprepared fruits and vegetables, such as corn, potatoes and melons.
Eating locally-grown produce can be better for health because it often retains more nutrients. Locally grown produce is allowed to ripen naturally because it’s picked fresh and in season, and doesn’t have far to travel before being sold. It might be safer than imported and out-of-season fruits like tomatoes, bananas and pears that are often picked unripe and then artificially ripened with ethylene gas. Also, food from local growers are less likely to contain pesticides.
Benefits to Farmers
Participating in the Farm Direct program provides farmers with additional sales opportunities, promotes the production of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, and helps support the local economy.
“Not only does it benefit the nutritional status of our clients, but it also helps the farmer in our local community, so it’s a win-win,” McCrea says.
For Use Statewide
Currently, six of the vendors at the Farmers’ Market are authorized to take the coupons. All happen to be Hutterite. But the coupons can be redeemed at any authorized farmer throughout the state.
“So if they’re in Missoula and they’re actually from Great Falls, they can use them there,” McCrea says.
Easy to Receive
Participants can pick up the coupons at the WIC offices at 115 4th St. in Great Falls beginning in mid-June. To qualify, a recipient must be receiving benefits through WIC. No appointments are necessary.
It takes almost no time to get the benefit. To sign up, residents need identification, proof of residency and proof of income.
“They can walk in and we go over the way they use the benefits and what’s allowed. They sign for them and they’re on their way,” McCrea says. “It’s about 10 minutes at the most.”
The coupons are good from June 15 through the last Saturday in September.
For more information about the Montana Farm Direct program contact the Great Falls WIC office at 406-454-6953 or 406-444-2841. Farmers interested in becoming a Montana WIC Farm Direct vendor also should contact the local WIC office.
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