L to R: Christina Chauvenet, Laura Perez, Maggie Funkhouser, Perla Flores-Coleman, Kate Chou. WIC FMNP shoppers were offered the opportunity to pick up their coupons at the farmers market and get a tour or shopping help if needed. Photo credit Carrboro Farmers Market.

On an early morning summertime walk, there’s nothing better than stopping by the farmers’ market for some fresh fruit and produce. A small breeze is blowing, the smell of strawberries is in the air, the hustle and bustle of vendors creates a chorus of voices and laughter. 

But not everyone who lives in Orange County has access to nutritious, fresh food. 

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) is a nationally-funded program to improve  nutrition for and provide food vouchers to women, infants, and children (WIC), as well as low-income older adults through the seniors program (SFMNP).

Piedmont Health Services in Carrboro, which contains a medical, dental, and WIC clinic, distributes these checks to WIC-eligible participants in the area. The Carrboro Farmers’ Market is collaborating with Piedmont Health Services to present the second annual Farm to Clinic pop-up market on Monday, June 6 from 9 a.m. to noon, and Chapel Hill Farmers’ Market is introducing its first ever pop-up market on Monday, June 13 from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Farm to Clinic pop-up takes place in the parking lot next to Piedmont Health Services, and offers fresh food to any WIC-eligible participants, many of whom stop by after checkups or appointments at the clinic, says Maggie Funkhouser, manager at Carrboro Farmers’ Market.

“[Piedmont Health Services] is trying to schedule checkups and wellness visits at the same time as the checks are distributed, and that’s the idea that it’s like a one-stop shop where you could get your wellness check, you could get your WIC FMNP, and then you could spend some of them—or all of them, if you wanted—with some farmers for fresh food that day,” Funkhouser says.

These pop-ups help WIC shoppers become more comfortable with the FMNP program and learn how to use the vouchers in a real farmers’ market setting, says Funkhouser.

“The idea with the pop-up market is to bring something that may be unfamiliar to a space that is perhaps more familiar,” says Funkhouser. “And the WIC FMNP program, if you’ve never used it before, can be a little confusing. So part of it is introducing WIC shoppers—who perhaps have never used this benefit before—to using it.”

Carrboro Farmers’ Market’s collaboration with Piedmont began in 2020 when neither of the FMNP programs were bringing in as many shoppers to the market as originally hoped, and Funkhouser reached out to Kate Chou, the WIC nutritionist at Piedmont Health, to “ask what could be done.”

Chou conducted a survey of Piedmont’s WIC customers, which she says includes “pregnant moms, postpartum moms, and kids between two to four years old.” The survey contained questions about barriers for using the WIC FMNP, their experience using it, and if they had ever used it at a farmers’ market.

“We all kind of looked at that survey together and came up with strategies that the farmers’ market could help support,” Funkhouser says. “So one of those was having her table at the farmers’ market right next to us. And then another one we came up with was piloting this pop-up market.”

Carrboro isn’t the first market to introduce this event, however. Carrboro and Chapel Hill were inspired by seeing other local farmers’ markets like Durham and Cobblestone successfully put on pop-ups of their own.

Last June was Carrboro’s first Farm to Clinic pop-up, and both collaborating organizations were very happy with the results, Chou says.

“We had 28 families who showed up that day,” Chou says. “And in total we issued out 200 WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program vouchers. So that’s why this year we continue that collaboration.”

Despite last year’s success, the two collaborators are making exciting changes this year to make the Farm to Clinic a more well-rounded experience by inviting other agencies such as the local libraries, the Early Head Start program, the Kidzu Children’s Museum, and others, Chou says.

“The families can come here for their routine welfare checks and dental appointments, and when they go to the parking lot they not only get the vouchers and get the free fruit and vegetables, they can also get connected with the local agencies and learn more about the programs they offer during the summertime or throughout the year,” Chou says.

In addition to these programs, Funkhouser says they hope to foster a new level of enjoyment this year.

“We’re going to try to make it more—for lack of a better word—fun,” Funkhouser says. “We’re going to have kids activities and face painting, maybe even live music, freebies like tote bags, and stuff like that to give away—just to make it more of a welcoming space, especially for families and children.”

At the end of the day, the overarching goal is to relay that the farmers’ market can be a space for everyone.

“I want to see people feel confident and comfortable using their benefits in a farmers’ market space, because ultimately, that’s what they’re for and that’s what we’re here for, too,” Funkhouser says. “We’re here to provide fresh food to our community—to all community members.”

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