In our previous blog post about SFC’s WIC voucher program (also known as the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program) at the Austin area farmers’ markets, we mentioned potential plans to expand food access in our state by developing this program in West Texas. Fast-forward several months and now we’re excited to share with you the story of why and how we successfully launched SFC’s first WIC voucher program outside of Central Texas.
EXPANDING FOOD ACCESS IN WEST TEXAS WITH THE WIC VOUCHER PROGRAM
THE POTENTIAL LOSS OF VALUABLE ASSISTANCE FOR FAMILIES & FARMERS
The WIC voucher program is a seasonal, supplemental nutrition benefit program for households that receive WIC benefits. The program provides extra money for WIC households to purchase fruits and vegetables at farmers’ markets. Early this spring, we got news that the Lubbock-area WIC voucher program was at risk of ending. The organization that had been managing the program was no longer able to support it and had no plan for succession. Both farmers and families in the South Plains region faced a potential end to valuable assistance provided by the WIC voucher program.
In the Lubbock area, the WIC voucher program has been available at several local farmers’ markets since the programs became available in the area, over 10 years ago. The program offers mothers like Jessie of Lubbock, Texas opportunities to purchase more fresh food, teach their children about healthy eating habits, and to connect with their community’s food producers. Jessie says:
I am so thankful for the WIC farmers market vouchers and the Double Up Food Bucks program. I believe real, healthy food is extremely important as is supporting local farmers who provide these things for the community. As a low-income mother of five, these programs make the farmers markets accessible to us. My children love being able to go and choose their own produce and meet the people who grew it. It inspires them to want to learn how to grow their own and opens their minds to trying new healthy foods.
Responding to these community concerns, SFC’s Food Access team assessed what it would take to bring on a second nutrition benefit program in West Texas. After meeting with farmers, regional partners, and other stakeholders, we made the decision to take over management of the West Texas WIC voucher program.
THE PROGRAM RELAUNCH
We spent April and May planning, strategizing, training, and connecting with local community partners, farmers, market managers, and the Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA). Our team quickly realized that we could not simply copy Austin’s program model in West Texas. Differences in geography, the seasonal availability of fresh produce, the unique expectations and needs of local farmers, staffing limitations, and the capacity of smaller, more rural markets meant we needed to be flexible and creative. With all hands on deck, our teams in Austin and Lubbock worked quickly and diligently to create a system that could work for the Lubbock-area farmers and farmers’ markets, comply with TDA regulations, and get fresh, local produce into the hands of as many families as possible.
In June, SFC’s West Texas WIC voucher program officially launched. Due to the enthusiastic support of the region’s WIC office, the team was able to issue vouchers at the farmers’ markets in Lubbock, Wolfforth, Plainview, and Tulia, as well as WIC clinics with mobile markets offering fresh produce on site.
SFC’s West Texas WIC voucher program distributed 4,725 vouchers (equaling $28,200) to families in the region. This represents a 34% growth in impact from the previous year!
THE WIC VOUCHER PROGRAM INCREASES FOOD ACCESS IN WEST TEXAS
The WIC voucher program has been running for several years in the South Plains region of West Texas. Throughout those years, from April through October, many families with young children in Lubbock and the surrounding rural areas used WIC vouchers at the local farmers’ markets to access more locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables.
Food insecurity is largely affected by income and supermarket accessibility. When these two factors coincide, the problem is compounded. We see an example of this in the rural West Texas town of Tulia where 33.6% of residents live at or below the poverty line and the closest grocery store is 25 miles away. According to U.S. Census data, young women are the group most likely to be living in poverty in Tulia. The Mid-Plains Farmers’ Market has offered the WIC voucher program, as well as SNAP and Double Up Food Bucks in Tulia since those programs first became available in the region. The two-day-a-week market that alternates between Plainview and Tulia locations offers some relief to those local families and individuals who often find it difficult to access fresh, nutritious food.
THE WIC VOUCHER PROGRAM SUPPORTS SMALL TO MID-SIZED FARMS
The WIC voucher program also helps support farmers by creating more demand for fresh local produce and by bringing a new customer base to the farmers’ markets. That can make a big difference for small farmers growing fruits and vegetables in the largest cotton producing area in the world. In West Texas the wind is fierce, the ground is dry, and water (when it does come) often comes in the form of hail.
Owners of the Mid-Plains Farmers Market and Vonnie’s Veggies Farm, Les and Yvonne Scarborough believe that the benefits of these food access programs go beyond just economics. They recently spoke with us about why they love the Double Up Food Bucks and WIC voucher programs:
The FMNP [WIC voucher program] develops healthier eating habits for young children which can carry on into adulthood and promotes a healthier lifestyle. We participate in these programs because we believe in helping people and it also increases our income and exposes people to a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables. This educates people in the community on who the local grower is and keeps the business and money in the community. It also creates a friendship within the community.
HELP US SPREAD THE WORD
From April through September, young children (1-5 years old) and mothers (pregnant, post-partum, or breastfeeding) can receive $30 worth of vouchers each and can use them to purchase fresh, Texas-grown fruits and vegetables at participating farmers’ markets. These vouchers are in addition to monthly benefits received throughout the year and are valid through October 31st.
West Texas WIC participants can use vouchers at the following locations:
- Lubbock Downtown Farmers Market
- Juicy Lucy’s Mobile Farmers Pantry
- Wolfforth Farmers Market
- Mid-Plains Farmers Market (Plainview and Tulia)
- Texas Country Farmers Market
Please help us spread the word about the WIC voucher program and SFC’s Food Access work in West Texas by sharing this information with your friends, family, colleagues, and neighbors! Although the voucher distribution period has ended for the 2022 season, this is an annual program that will return in both Austin and West Texas in April 2023. For more information about this program and Double Up Food Bucks in West Texas, please visit our social media platforms and the Double Up Texas website, which features an interactive map with participating market locations. To speak with someone directly about these programs, call SFC’s bilingual (English and Spanish) Help Desk at 512-730-1807.