Area farmers consider farmers market nutrition programs

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 7, 2001

Features Editor

For farmers to stay in business these days, it’s essential they diversify their operations.

No longer can a farmer make ends meet by growing only cotton or peanuts. Many area farmers have added poultry farming to their operations. Some have added alligators, others aquiculture.

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On Wednesday, a group of farmers met at the South Alabama Electric Cooperative building to learn more about another opportunity to diversify their farming operation – produce farming.

The Farmers Market Connection Campaign was conducted by Don Wambles, administrator Farmers Market Authority, who brought good news about the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs (FMNP).

Wambles told the farmers that the FMNP provides low-income seniors and nutritionally at-risk women and children with vouchers to help them buy nutritious, locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets.

The farmers market is a place where local farmers come during the growing season, from June through September, and possibly October, to sell their produce directly to consumers and for the community to gather, socialize and learn about good food and how it is grown.

"The concept of farmers and consumers getting together in one place, sharing something as important as the food we eat, cultivates understanding and appreciation between rural and urban sectors," Wambles said.

And, the WIC and seniors voucher programs put dollars in the farmers’ pockets.

"These programs provide these mothers and senior citizens with an opportunity to support our farmers through the voucher programs and the programs put money in the farmers’ pockets," Wambles said. "The Farmers Market Nutrition Programs are beneficial to the communities they serve."

Wambles said response to the

FMNP has been so great by participants and producers alike that plans are to have both programs in all Alabama counties in the state by 2010.

"These programs provide good, nutritious fruits and vegetables to seniors and nutritionally at-risk women and children and also funnel money to the produce farmers," Wambles said. "We believe Pike County would benefit from the programs."

According to records, Pike County will have 918 eligible seniors in 2002 and 1,086 WIC participants, making nearly $50,000 available to area produce farmers.

"The Farmer’s Market will be a good opportunity for our area produce farmers to sell their products along with other farmers from our region," Wambles said. "Those who are participating in the Farmers Market Nutrition Programs will purchase their products with the vouchers that have been issued to them. Of course, the market will be open to the public and there will be opportunities for cash sales also."

The farmers who attended the Farmers Market Connection Campaign indicated they are interested in the FMNP and a farmers market being located in the Troy area.

In the fiscal year 2001, $20 million of the federally appropriated WIC funds were earmarked for FMNP state agencies and $15 million for the Senior FMNP, Wambles said. Alabama’s share was $198,333 for the WIC FMNP and $745,360 for the Senior FMNP.

"Through the programs, farmers increase their client base and incomes; needy families get fresh, Alabama-grown produce and we all

stand to benefit from a generation of young children who start out life with good nutrition and a healthier senior population," Wambles said. "This program is an example of direct marketing in which everyone benefits."