Vouchers out for fresh produce

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Farmers in and around Socorro are making use of federal resources to better nourish low-income seniors, women, infants and children.

Griffin Swartzell/El Defensor Chieftain: A vendor bags fresh produce for a customer at the Socorro Farmers’ Market.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service runs two farmers market nutrition programs: the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Women, Infants and Children Farmers Market Nutrition Program. Both the SFMNP and the WIC FMNP are dedicated to provide coupons that can be exchanged for unprocessed, locally-grown fruits, vegetables and fresh-cut herbs. The SFMNP also allows honey — at eligible farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture programs, according to the programs’ websites.

While the SFMNP services low-income persons over 60 years old, the WIC FMNP services anyone who receives or is on a waiting list for WIC program benefits. Low income is defined as earning under 185 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines.

In the past, the New Mexico Department of Health has only approved farmers markets to work with these programs. This year, San Antonio-based Sichler Farms Produce is one of three produce stand owners who have been approved to work with the two FMNPs.

Co-owner Paula Sichler has been trying to get the state Department of Health to approve Sichler Farms’ involvement in both FMNPs since shortly after their inception. Though the programs allowed produce stands, the DOH was reluctant to approve stands as they felt they didn’t have the funding to police the program properly, Sichler said.

The DOH didn’t approve farmers markets all at once either. According to state DOH employee Nadine Ulibarri-Keller, it took until three years ago for the Socorro Farmers Market to start receiving funding from the federal programs.

Ulibarri-Keller said the SFM, of which she is a member, was having trouble overcoming the administrative cost limitations — only 10 percent of all FMNP funds can go to administrative costs. With a “mini” grant from the Socorro Health Council, SCOPE, for fitness and nutrition programs, SFM collaborated with the Socorro Storehouse, for which Ulibarri-Keller is a board member, to establish a small voucher system for senior pantry clientele. With aid from Rep. Don Tripp, Ulibarri-Keller and New Mexico Farmers Market Association Executive Director Denise Miller wrote a state bill to establish a FMNP for the state. Though Gov. Bill Richardson line-item vetoed it on its first pass through his office, he approved a similar bill the year after. Shortly after that, the SFM began receiving federal FMNP monies from both the Seniors and WIC programs, as it has for the last three years.

Sichler’s participation in the programs expands the number of days coupon recipients can purchase food, being open seven days a week rather than two.

The state of New Mexico received $330,879 for the SFMNP and $267,248 for the WIC FMNP, a total of $598,127 in support for raw agricultural products.

Socorro Farmers Market is open in Socorro’s Plaza from 5 to 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, and from 8 to 11 a.m. on Saturdays. SFM runs satellite markets on Thursdays at Walters Park in Alamo from 1 to 3 p.m., and at the Baca Building in Magdalena from 4 to 6 p.m. Sichler Farms Produce’s San Antonio stand will open in early August, and its Los Lunas stand will open in mid-August. The San Antonio location will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Mondays through Saturdays, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays. The Los Lunas location will be open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week.

To apply for SFMNP vouchers, go to www.farmersmarketsnm.org/Farmers_Markets/Senior_Nutrition_Program/. To apply for WIC FMNP vouchers, go to www.nmwic.org/participants/.