I recently took a drive out to Martinsburg, West Virginia to visit Orr’s Farm Market . The Orr’s market, like dozens in the area, stock fresh fruits and vegetables just harvested from the nearby fields and fertile orchards. In fact, more than 95 percent of Orr’s produce is grown just feet from where I strolled: an impressive display of berries, sweet corn, heirloom tomatoes, and a wide assortment of peach varieties of every imaginable type. But fresh and local produce isn’t all I found at Orr’s. You see, this market, along with many more around the country, welcomes participants in USDA food and nutrition programs–and that is very good news.
I met with Mitch Greenbaum, the Shenandoah Valley WIC program director, who had driven a mobile benefits outreach vehicle to Orr’s to distribute WIC food vouchers to eligible families. Mitch’s nutrition services staff heavily promotes the voucher program which provides up to $20 to WIC participants. By making the vouchers available to clients at a farmers’ market, Mitch can better promote the healthy food choices so readily available. Clients sign for the vouchers then walk next door where they can purchase tasty and perfectly ripe fruits plucked a few hours before from a nearby orchard.
I was fortunate to meet Alicia Powell and her son Shawn who were browsing the market for fruit salad ingredients. Alicia said Shawn absolutely loves fruits and vegetables with one exception: broccoli. But they have a plan. At the checkout counter Alicia paid for a watermelon, a bucket of peaches, and a variety of other produce that half-filled her shopping cart. The total came to $19 and some change, all paid for with the $20 voucher she signed for a few minutes earlier. Meanwhile Shawn, still enjoying a sample of a sweet West Virginia peach, gave his mom a look that seemed to say “you are awesome for buying all this good stuff to eat.” And Alicia gave Shawn a knowing smile in return.