Head Start families help farmers extend their growing season

posted on October 19, 2012 12:08pm

CONTACT: Dru Montri, Michigan Farmers Market Association, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address),
517-353-7961 OR Eileen Gianiodis, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) 517-432-1555, ext. 230

EAST LANSING, Mich. – With the increased number of farmers’ markets that are accepting food assistance benefits across the state, the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA), the Michigan State University (MSU) Center for Regional Food Systems and the MSU Student Organic Farm are facilitating a program designed to introduce vulnerable families to local farmers’ markets and to provide the families with the resources they need to become loyal, repeat customers.

The loan program, “Hoophouses for Health,” is funded by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and allows food-insecure families to assist farmers in paying back loans they have secured to build hoophouses on their farms.

Farmers pay off their hoophouse loans by accepting vouchers as payment for the food they sell at the farmers’ market. The dollar amount of the food distributed is then taken off of the loan amount that the farmer owes. Farmers have 5 years to pay back the loan. The loan is a zero interest loan.

Packets of vouchers will be given to local community groups who will then distribute the vouchers to low-income individuals. Individuals will present these vouchers to participating farmers at the farmers market. Farmers can exchange vouchers for any food product or food producing plant produced on their farm and presented for sale at the farmers market. Products do not have tocome from the hoop house purchased with the loan.The farmer will then submit the vouchers to the Michigan Farmers Market Association (MIFMA)and the value of the vouchers will be deducted from their loan amount as “repayment.”

In 2011, a dozen farmers received loans for a total of $179,248 and planned to collect almost $19,000 worth of vouchers at six Michigan farmers’ markets. In the next two years, the program will expand to more farmers and markets, thus serving a larger number of vulnerable children and their families.

“I believe this program and the incentives it offers are bringing new families to the market and that it has the potential to create loyal customers,” said Christina Yancho of Trim Pines Farm.

This year, the program partnered with the Michigan Head Start Association to distribute vouchers to families of local Head Start agencies, with instructions for the parents to use the vouchers to purchase food from participating farmers at their local farmers’ markets.

Dru Montri, director of MIFMA, explained that a goal of the program is to build the capacity of low-income families to access and utilize more fruits and vegetables in their diet to improve the health of their famiies while building the capacity of the agricultural community to meet the demand for fresh produce by building and using hoophouses to extend the growing season.

The program’s multigeneration strategy targets both parents and kids by providing parents tools to demonstrate to their children that eating fruits and vegetables is part of a healthy diet.

The program plans to distribute $500,000 over a three-year period to farmers seeking to install hoophouses, which will in turn disburse food of an equal value to Head Start families over a five-year repayment schedule.

For more information, visit http://hoophouse.msu.edu/assets/custom/files/Frequently%20Asked%20Questions-updated%20June%202012.pdf.

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