The WIC program generally provides assistance to enhance the health of low-income women, infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutritional risk by providing nutritious foods to supplement diets, information on healthy eating and referrals to health care.
While the Farmers' Market program was established in 1992, Mitchell "Mitch" Greenbaum of Shenandoah Community Health said it wasn't launched in Berkeley County until last year because there was limited funding and few participating markets.
Greenbaum, who directs WIC programs in five eastern West Virginia counties, and two of his staff members were at Orr's Farm Market on Friday to distribute the special vouchers to eligible Farmers' Market WIC participants, as well as to hand out recipes, and offer healthy food samples and nutrition guidance.
"The reason that we give (the vouchers) out here ... is because we want to be assured that the people are going to use them," Greenbaum said.
Greenbaum said they will return to Orr's on Aug. 20 and 27, and added that he hopes to eventually coordinate an on-site visit to Butler's Farm Market, which recently became a certified WIC participant. Greenbaum said the WIC vouchers for the Farmers' Market program will be available next Thursday at the market in Berkeley Springs, W.Va.
"We try to get the most motivated people to come ... Not only that, but they get the opportunity to see where produce is made and they return, and that's what the farmers are telling us."
Friday's on-site program at Orr's was observed by Audrey Rowe, Deputy Administrator for Special Nutrition Programs in the Food and Nutrition Services of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Rowe said the growth of farmers' markets, particularly small operations, across the nation has been "tremendous."
In addition to promotion of nutrition education and how to prepare foods in the special WIC program, Rowe said her agency is urging partnerships between farmers' markets and schools to grow gardens.
Improving access to farmers' markets still is a challenge and Rowe said they are looking at strategies to bridge the physical gap by using "mobile carts" to reach more people.
Orr's Farm Market manager Katy Orr-Dove said their participation in the WIC program offers a unique opportunity to educate the community about the value of local products and also stimulate repeat business.
"We think that often our products are cheaper than what they can get at the grocery store," Orr-Dove said. "Anything on saving money that we can help them with, were happy to do."
More information about West Virginia WIC is online at http://ons.wvdhhr.org/Default.aspx.