By Akua Odi Boateng, MS, RD, LDN, WIC Director, and Cinthia Castillo, WIC Nutrition Education Technician, and
Summer is one of the best times to taste local fruits and vegetables, such as apples, cantaloupe, bell peppers, green beans, peaches, and strawberries. Eating a wide variety of fruits and vegetables has many health benefits, but there is a perception that eating fresh produce is expensive.
Mary’s Center WIC nutrition educators are here to tell you that eating healthy does not have to empty your wallet! Here are 6 tips to bring fresh produce home all summer long:
1) Look Out for Farmers Market Discounts
A lot of farmers market organizations receive funding that they use to match or discount the cost of buying produce in their markets. Some have a dollar-to-dollar match, while others use these funds to discount the cost of certain fruits and vegetables. These benefits are usually available to all market goers but may not be offered by all markets. They can be in the form of tokens or coupons that are used to discount other purchases. Find your local farmers market here.
2) Join a Community Supported Agriculture Program
Another way of getting fresh produce at a discount is to become part of a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program. CSAs allow you to buy shares in a farm’s harvest at a fixed cost. It’s like a subscription program that enables participants to get a box or bag of harvests each week throughout the season. Learn more in this guide to CSAs in the DC area.
3) Take Advantage of SNAP Benefits
The use of SNAP benefits (food stamps) is another way for families to reduce their food budget either at the farmers market or the grocery store. In addition to allowing families not to use a lot of out-of-pocket cash for fruits and vegetables, some farmers market organizations match the amount spent on produce by SNAP beneficiaries dollar-for-dollar up to a market-determined limit, commonly about $10. One local example is FRESHFARM’s FRESH Match program.
4) Use WIC Cash Value Checks at Farmers Markets
During the summer, WIC families can usually receive Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) benefits, in addition to the regular cash value checks for fruit and vegetables. While the FMNP benefits are limited to use at farmers markets, cash value checks can be used both in the market and the grocery store. There is, however, an advantage to using fruit and vegetable checks at the farmers market during the summer as a lot of markets have a dollar-to-dollar match. This summer, as a result of the American Rescue Plan, WIC cash value checks have been increased to $35 for each WIC participant for the months of July, August, and September.
5) Don’t Forget About Senior Nutrition Programs
While WIC benefits are limited to women and children, seniors have a unique opportunity to also take advantage of the abundance of fruits and vegetables during the summer through the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. This program provides low-income seniors with access to locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey, and herbs. In DC, seniors can enroll with the Capital Area Food Bank or through one of the senior centers. Seniors receive $30 for the summer, and the amount is matched at most farmers markets just like other benefits.
6) Enroll in Produce Plus
DC also has a local program called Produce Plus that serves as an avenue for families to receive more fruits and vegetables. Enrollment for this program is open to all low-income residents of DC who are enrolled in WIC, SNAP, Medicaid, Social Security Benefits, or TANF. For 2021, enrollment was open in April only. Participants in this program can get up to $200 worth of produce over a 10-week period.
While summertime is the peak of produce availability, many people can find other avenues of getting fresh produce throughout the year from programs like the Community Marketplace, Bread for the City, and WIC cash value checks.
Learn more by contacting WIC at Mary’s Center at 202-232-6679.