Voucher program expands access to Franklin Farmers Market

At the Franklin Farmers Market, shoppers looking for healthy foods can find a bounty from area farmers.

Brightly colored produce, lean cuts of meat, locally made cheese, bread and honey – the market connects consumers directly to the people who grow and raise our food.

With a new initiative launched this year at the Farmer’s Market, families in need can increase their purchasing power and access even more quality food.

Franklin Market Money provides maximum value vouchers to eligible families to purchase meat, eggs, cheese, fruits, vegetables, plants and herbs at the Farmer’s Market. The Johnson County Local Food Council, in conjunction with Johnson County WIC and Purdue Extension Johnson County, will provide the vouchers, using a grant from the Indiana State Department of Agriculture to increase access to nutritious food.

Not only will eligible local residents have better access to this food, but the program adds income to area farmers, said Tracy Smith, Johnson County WIC coordinator.

“They get a lot more fresh food and get more for their money when they shop,” she said. “And farmers and vendors also get more customers.”

The Johnson County Local Food Council is an organization dedicated to improving access to healthy, affordable food that supports the local community. They achieve this through nutrition education, awareness raising and the development of mutually beneficial strategic relationships between producers, businesses and local residents.

“We’ve been thinking how we can do this in Johnson County, and this is one way to do it,” said County Extension Manager Sarah Hanson. “We can give buyers essentially free money, and they can buy from local farmers. They collect local food in their house, and the farmers get profits and new consumers. »

Earlier this year, the council received a $3,500 Local Food Council Development Grant from Indiana Grown, an Indiana State Department of Agriculture program that helps promote and developing products grown by Hoosier.

One of the purposes of this grant was to implement a nutrition incentive program, said Erin Slevin, community wellness coordinator for Purdue Extension Johnson County.

“Farmers markets are the perfect place where community building seems to happen, and it allows our local food system to thrive and grow. It’s one of the big goals of the food council to create those relationships in the county,” she said.

WIC, a supplemental nutrition program for women, infants, and children, has had a farmers’ market program for many years. Eligible families receive direct funding to use in the market, starting in August and available through the end of the market season in October. This program only allows recipients to spend the money provided on fruits and vegetables, Smith said.

The Market Money initiative is larger than the WIC Farmers Market. Participants can use the vouchers from June 4 to July 16 and spend them on a wider range of products.

“There are not as many restrictions. Our funding comes from the (U.S. Department of Agriculture) so Farmers Market checks can only be used on fruits and vegetables,” Smith said. “Market money can be used for other local things that farmers would grow, sell or make.”

Market Money has restrictions; people can’t buy cakes, cookies, dog treats or anything inedible like soaps, lotions and candles, Smith said. Yet they have more flexibility in choosing nutritious foods.

The program is open to families already registered with WIC. When these families come to the Franklin Farmers Market, they can come to the Food Council booth. Staff members will confirm in their computer system that they are eligible and will receive vouchers – $8 each, and each eligible family member can claim up to three, with a total value of $24.

“We found that if you’re actually at the market and you get the vouchers, you turn around and use them immediately. In the past, if we handed them out to our office, they filed them away or forgot about them, and didn’t always use them,” Smith said. “If you get them there, they’re more likely to use that money.”

Farmers and producers will then be reimbursed for these vouchers within days by Purdue Extension Johnson County.

For this summer, Market Money is only available at Franklin Farmers Market as a pilot program, Slevin said. But if it succeeds, the potential for expansion is there.

“I wish we could do that with all the markets in the county,” Slevin said. “But we’ll see how it goes, and maybe look for funding to make it sustainable.”

James V. Payne