By TRACEY GLAZENER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Despite cuts to Michigan’s popular Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, West Michigan organizations have stepped up private funding to ensure the service’s continuation.
In cooperation with Women, Infants and Children — a national food and nutrition program — Michigan offers the program, called Project Fresh, to at-risk women and children.
Through Project Fresh, local WIC agencies provide participants with coupons, which are redeemable for produce from local farmers’ markets.
Eligible families receive one booklet of 10 coupons, each redeemable for $2 worth of fruits and vegetables. Participating farmers are reimbursed by the state for the value of coupons accepted.
Federal funding for Project Fresh — which is administered through the Michigan Department of Community Health and the Michigan State University Extension Service — was cut by 53 percent for 2002.
According to a memo provided to county WIC agencies by DCH, an increase in food package costs and an expected increase in caseloads are possible reasons behind limited funding.
The memo stated that local WIC agencies demonstrating private funding will be given priority and receive coupon allocation proportionate to the specific amount of available funding, based on a $6 per booklet cost.
For example, a $600 grant is worth 100 coupon booklets to the respective county.
According to DCH communications director Geralyn Lasher, four of the state’s 42 local WIC agencies have secured private funding for Project Fresh.
District Health Department 10 — which serves Crawford, Kalkaska, Lake, Manistee, Mason, Mecosta, Missaukee, Newaygo, Oceana and Wexford counties — is among those four agencies.
District 10 WIC Director Anne Bianchi said the department is seeing tremendous local support for the program.
“It is such a great program, and the outpouring of support we have received is allowing us to run a viable program this year, despite funding cuts,” she said.
Bianchi said the department has received grants from several local organizations to secure booklets for their respective counties:
The Mason County United Way contributed $1,980 for 330 booklets.
The Great Lakes Energy Peoples Fund contributed $1,980 for 330 booklets for Oceana County.
The Lake County Community Foundation contributed $540 for 90 booklets.
Bianchi said District 10 received the largest district Project Fresh grant in the state last year, which allotted the counties 3,260 booklets.
Of those allotted, Mason County received 150, but a grant from the Ludington Area Community Foundation allowed the county to obtain 165 additional booklets.
“It is apparent that this program is important to these people,” Bianchi said. “We are very fortunate, as well as excited, that we will be able to provide this service to our clients this summer.”
While the coupons are an important part of Project Fresh, there is an educational component as well for which the Michigan State University Extension Service is responsible.
Meagan Shedd, associate Project Fresh leader, said the extension service incorporates the 5-A-Day program into instructional classes and distributes 5-A-Day for Better Health materials to Project Fresh clients.
“The 5-A-Day program teaches participants how to stretch their WIC dollars to get five servings of vegetables into their diet every day,” she said. “Some classes provide hands-on food preparation instructions and include recipes and taste tests, too.”
To determine the effect of Project Fresh on fruit and vegetable consumption behavior, the DCH and extension service conducted a study involving 455 participants. The results of the study were published by the American Dietetic Association in February 2001.
The study found that low-income populations are most likely to increase fruit and vegetable consumption behavior when both coupon incentives and nutritional education are available.
Meanwhile, Project Fresh also promotes consumer awareness of Michigan’s local farmers’ markets.
Dan Malkowski of Free Soil’s family-owned Orchard Market said the program has increased his revenue, as well as awareness of his market locally, and he hopes the program will continue to do so.
“I don’t think the program has reached its full potential yet, but it continues to bring customers to our market,” he said. “We hope the program is able to continue, and we’ll participate for as long as it does.”
Participants are encouraged to buy produce rich in vitamins A, C and folic acid. Malkowski offers a wide range of such produce, including asparagus, strawberries, apples, peaches, plums, cherries, sweet corn, cauliflower and beans.
He said participants shopping with young children tend to buy more fruits than vegetables, but sweet corn is a big favorite, too.
Muskegon Farmers’ Market vendor Robert Rider, who has participated in Project Fresh for six years, is also pleased with program results.
“It’s a great program — it has brought lots of new customers to the farmers’ market,” he said. “The coupons are good for the people who receive them, too, because it teaches them to be more selective and to buy more nutritional foods for their families.”
Based on last year’s statewide coupon redemption rate of 69.45 percent, Project Fresh generated $444,855 for Michigan’s 559 participating farmers.
Those eligible to receive Project Fresh coupons include:
Breastfeeding women up to one year after delivery.
Postpartum women up to six months after delivery.
Children ages 1 to 5.
In addition, women must meet the income eligibility requirements — based on household size — for WIC. For example, a single pregnant woman may not earn more than $16,391 annually, while a family of four may not exceed $33,485 annually.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By TRACEY GLAZENER