WIC Vouchers at the Farmers Market

As a part of my WIC responsibilities for ISPP dietetic rotations, another intern and I went to assist at the Morgantown Farmers market to distribute WIC vouchers to participants. The farmers’ market vouchers were mentioned to clients at WIC when I observed this past week. So, now I that I could actually see how participants come and use the vouchers, it seems much clearer to me as to how the whole process works.

Each WIC participant in each family gets a total of $20 worth of WIC vouchers to spend at vendors at the farmers’ market that accept WIC vouchers. So, for example if you’re a pregnant mother at WIC with 2 children under 5 years of age, then you would receive $60 worth of vouchers to spend. The vouchers have an expiration date of October 31st, 2013 so; this gives parents and families time to spend the vouchers as well. Each voucher packet has two $5 vouchers inside. So, each participant receives two packets.

The vendors that accept the WIC vouchers have orange posted signs that families can look for when shopping at any of the farmers’ markets. The WIC vouchers themselves are only distributed at the Morgantown Farmers’ Market on Spruce Street, the downtown location.

WIC was given $2,500 worth of vouchers this year. The amount of vouchers that they are given each year depends on their redemption rate from the previous year. So, in 2011 the Monongalia County WIC farmers’ market redemption rate was 60%. In 2012, their redemption rate was 70% when the state redemption rate was 65%. So, from the numbers I observed it seems that if a county has a redemption rate higher than the state average, they receive more vouchers than the previous year and vice versa.

When the WIC participants pick-up their vouchers at the downtown farmers’ market, they can use these vouchers at any of the farmers’ market locations in the area. Yes, the vouchers are only distributed at the Spruce Street location. But, the vouchers can be spent at any farmers’ market listed below. The participants are only given the vouchers once per summer.

The vouchers seem to be a hot commodity as well. Last week was the first week that WIC was at the Morgantown Farmers’ Market to distribute the vouchers. Out of the $2,500 that WIC started with, they issued $1,900 last week. So, today we started with $600 worth of vouchers. They weren’t all given out today but, I can definitely see how WIC participants love using these. Not only does it serve as a convenience but, it also supports the local economy. The program, in a whole, is such a great motivator for WIC participants to increase fresh fruits and vegetables into their family’s diet. The only restriction on what the participants can purchase is that the vouchers will only be accepted for fruits, vegetables, and herbs. So, families can’t purchase things like eggs, proteins, or baked goods. But again, this is great because it encourages families to eat more fruits and vegetables and maybe even try a new fruit or vegetable!

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The West Virginia Road Map for the Food Economy

The “buying local” trend has emerged within the last few years. In the United States, especially in West Virginia, food agriculture businesses are finding themselves at critical and electrifying times of opportunity. From 2006 to 2008, West Virginia small restaurants and hotels showed a 360% increase in purchases of local products. In the 2012-2013 school year, the WV Department of Education committed $250,000 in school food funds for local purchases. More than a dozen of county school systems reported buying directly from West Virginia farms in 2012, while four of these began buying locally since September 2011. Even the Martinsburg VAMC sees fresh, healthy meals as an ingredient of recovery for their patients and has spent over $23,000 on local food.

From 2002 to 2007, 39% more local West Virginia farmers began selling directly to consumers. And the dollar amount of direct-to-consumer sales increased by 55%. This means that farmers are capturing a greater portion of the consumer food dollar by marketing products as directly as possible from farm to table as demand grows, new business models are also emerging to provide the kinds of processing, aggregation and distribution required to meet the needs of sophisticated buyers.

This growth creates jobs for farmers and also for other parts of the state’s economy. A recent study by Downstream Strategies, LLC and WVU showed that if West Virginia farmers grew enough produce to meet the in-season fresh produce needs of all state residents, the shift would generate 1,723 new jobs and would result in about $190 million being retained in the state instead of flowing beyond its borders. Increased local sales of West Virginia products also creates the need for businesses that collect, process and distribute local food, which creates more local jobs. For example, one Iowa study found that every 1,000 cattle sent to small meat processing facilities supported 7.4 processing jobs.

So a common question that you might find asking yourself is… What exactly does “buying local” mean? There is no universally agreed-upon definition for the geographic component of what “local” or “regional” means, consumers are left to decide what local and regional food means to them. A 2008 survey found that half of consumers surveyed described “local” as “made or produced within a hundred miles” (of their homes), while another 37% described “local” as “made or produced in my state.”  The ability to eat “locally” also varies depending on the production capacity of the region in question: people living in areas that are agriculturally productive year-round may have an easier time sourcing food that is grown or raised 100 miles (or even 50 miles) from their homes than those in arid or colder regions, whose residents may define “local food” in a more regional context.

The Morgantown Farmers’ Market, for example, sells products that are grown or made within 50 miles of Morgantown city limits. So all of their products are supporting small family farms.

So, West Virginia has developed a “food charter” that’s designed to help us all focus, measure and celebrate our collective progress towards stronger local food systems. This Road Map for the Food Economy offers a vision for WV’s local food economy and provides ways of measuring how statewide and local policies, programs, and community efforts are contributing to the strength of this food economy. The Road Map is broken down into 2 parts: an action plan for building a food and farm economy over the next 5 years; and a “Food Economy Score Card” which allows us to measure the cooperative progress towards the goals of the action plan. The Food Economy Score Card will be updated annually and then the positive changes and progression will be distinguished in an annual report.

This Road Map is for everyone!It’s offered more as a tool to help people (and consumers) in West Virginia understand the key opportunities of the food policies and economy. Local government, citizens groups, policy makers, farmer groups, foundations, agencies, economic developers and other concerned groups are invited to adopt or adapt the Road Map as a guide to form an action plan for their own efforts.

So, how can you get involved?

          Adopt the Road Map for the Food Economy charter: encourage your local government, citizens group, legislators, farmer organization, community foundation, economic developers or other concerned agencies to sign on at

          Stay connected to statewide organizing efforts through the West Virginia Food & Farm Coalition by signing up for our newsletter, and by attending statewide events hosted by other groups — such as the West Virginia Small Farm Conference, hosted by WVU Extension Service and its West Virginia Small Farm Center.

          Buy Local: set a goal for how much your family, business or agency will spend on local food. At home, consider buying at least $10 worth of locally produced food per week. At work, consider sourcing at least $500 worth of local food for events and meetings each year.

          Find simple ways to work on the Road Map’s action items within your own community. Tell your school superintendent about the importance of Agriculture Education; let a farmer know about farm to school opportunities, or help start a nutrition education class at your local farmers market. If you are part of a civic organization, help that organization choose an action item to work on this year.

Why should the Road Map matter to you?

The problem that I’m really trying to shine light on is the fact that food access has a HUGE effect on food insecurity in the U.S. right now. The State Indicator on Fruits and Vegetables 2013 reports that the percentage of census tracts with at least one healthier food retailer within a ½ mile of tract boundary in West Virginia is at 59.3%. Currently, West Virginia does not have a healthier food retail policy. West Virginia also does not currently have a state-level farm-to-school/preschool policy. The entire state only has 1 food hub. Yes, only one! And West Virginia has no local food policy councils. That’s right… zero!

As a community why can’t get try to enclose this gap in food access with the products that are right in front of us? Well, only time will tell how this community attempts to resolve this problem.

Sustainable Table

HOD Backgrounder

2015 Dietary Guidelines

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Logo Concepts revised

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Food Allergens and Restaurants

Restaurant Owners and Food Allergies

Chef Ming Tsai remembers ordering a sandwich without bread for his then-3-year-old son David because the toddler was allergic to seven of the eight most common food allergens. Tsai approached the restaurant manager, a man in a suit and tie standing off to the side.

“He just looked at me and said, ‘We’d rather not serve him,'” Tsai said, adding that waiters and restaurant managers used to roll their eyes when he mentioned David’s food allergies. “Don’t open a restaurant if you don’t know what’s in your food. This is absurd.”

From that day on, Tsai made it his mission to promote allergy awareness. He developed an allergy safety system in his restaurant, Blue Ginger in Wellesley, Mass. He became the spokesman for the nonprofit Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network (FARE). He worked with the Massachusetts state legislature for five years on an allergy safety bill.

David went into anaphylactic shock during Tsai’s father-in-law’s 70th birthday, Tsai said. He was in the kitchen preparing roast tenderloin for 80 guests when the babysitter accidentally gave 5-year-old David whole milk instead of rice milk.

“David comes down and says, ‘My throat is itchy, and it’s tightening up,'” Tsai said. “You could tell in his eyes that he’s not overreacting here.”

David’s breathing became labored, and Tsai’s wife, a nurse, sprang to action and jammed an EpiPen in David’s leg.

“That was the most horrible scream I ever heard in my life,” he said. “My body still tingles from that scream.”

“My first reaction was that’s a really unfunny joke from upstairs,” he said. “I couldn’t wait to cook for my kid. That was my dream.”

Eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts, and wheat make up 90 percent of food allergies, according to a 2008 CDC report that found an 18 percent rise in children diagnosed with food allergies between 1997 and 2007.

As David grew up, Tsai said it was especially hard to visit restaurants, something he loved to do as a kid. As allergies and allergy awareness have become more prevalent, he said people’s attitudes have shifted. He usually serves between 6 and 10 tables a night with some kind of food allergy, and he’s happy to do it.

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As you can tell by the story of Chef Tsai, food allergies have become all too common in society today. With the increase in food allergies among people, especially in children, parents are becoming more educated and becoming proactive on the issue at hand. People like Chef Tsai are even becoming advocates for food allergies. This being said, this is why Chef Tsai put a solid effort into becoming an advocate for food allergies and pushed for this bill to be passed.

http://www.mass.gov/legis/bills/senate/185/st02/st02701.htm

This is why, in my opinion, more restaurants in America should take a role in nutrition education. If more restaurants would identify food allergens on their menus, both in-house and out-of-house, this could potentially save children from hospitals visits, parents from stress and worry, and healthcare costs across the country.

This being said, the WVU Human Nutrition & Foods is currently working on a food allergens project with a restaurant in the Morgantown, WV area. We were approached by the restaurant, Taziki’s Mediterranean Café, to identify their food allergens on their menu. The restaurant is owned and operated by the College of Business and Economics at WVU and was donated by a B&E alumni who not only promotes entrepreneurship but, also promotes fresh hospitality. This alumni’s company, called Fresh Hospitality, is joining the HN&F department and proactively making positive changes to address food allergens.

http://www.freshhospitality.net/

Hopefully, other restaurants and chains will see companies like Fresh Hospitality, making conscious efforts on their menus to address nutrition issues, like food allergies, and make changes themselves. When other restaurants begin to catch on to these healthy trends that the rest of American restaurants are beginning to adopt, WVU’s HN&F department will be here to help out every way we can!

http://www.foodallergy.org/section/about

http://community.kidswithfoodallergies.org/

http://www.foodallergy.org/files/WVGuidelines.pdf

http://wvde.state.wv.us/nutrition/calculator.html

http://abcnews.go.com/Health/food-allergy-awareness-chef-ming-tsai-inspired-son/story?id=17879455#.UMEqi4bJpqQ

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