By: Kelsey Barnes, Public Health Nutrition Educator
Clinton County is a rural county in upstate New York with 81,000 residents. Low income is the County’s most obvious disparity. Approximately 1/3 of the total population lives in households with income levels below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level and about 1 in 5 local children live in a low income household. Nearly a quarter of the County’s total population is categorized as having “low food access.” Regardless of income, 75% of Clinton County residents do not consume adequate amounts of fruits and vegetables. In a recent community survey, one out of every four respondents reported access to healthy foods as a concern for themselves or their family. With a high proportion of low income families and many obstacles to accessing opportunities for health, it isn’t surprising the County also experiences higher rates of common chronic diseases compared to state and national averages. Due to these findings, Clinton County identified healthy food access as a priority for its community health improvement plan.
Although there are a number of farms in the region, it was discovered only a handful were offering direct to consumer sales. In addition, many of these farmers were not participating in state and national nutrition incentive programs. In 2016, multiple partners teamed up to change this.
As part of the local Community Partnerships for Healthy Mothers and Children (CPHMC) initiative, project staff assisted a local farmers’ market program in recruiting farmers to become authorized to accept state and national nutrition incentive vouchers, such as WIC Farmers Market Checks, WIC Fruit and Vegetable vouchers and SNAP. The team educated farmers about the different programs, coordinated trainings for them and even provided guidance throughout the authorization process.
To help household food dollars stretch even further for local families, farmers were also encouraged to participate in a local nutrition incentive program called Farm Fresh Cash (FFC). CPHMC project staff helped spread the word to local WIC families by creating and maintaining a listing of all farmers with direct to consumer sales, including location, hours of operation and the nutrition incentive programs they participated in.
Farm Fresh Cash was launched in the summer of the 2016. In its first year, 21 local farmers and markets stepped up to participate in the program and nearly 800 residents received FFC vouchers (the program is on track to triple that number in 2017). In addition, five new farmers completed the authorization process to accept state or national nutrition incentive benefits. As a result, more residents are visiting local farm stands and markets and hundreds of local families have easier access to locally grown fruits and vegetables.