In 2019, Voices for Georgia’s Children, in collaboration with Georgia Family Connection Partnership (GaFCP), Georgia WIC, and the Georgia Head Start Collaboration completed the first of a two-round pilot, whereby Women Infant and Children (WIC) farmers’ markets were hosted at Early Head Start (EHS) and Head Start (HS) locations in Butts and Lowndes counties. The goals of the first pilot were to: 1) test the feasibility of hosting a WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) at a EHS/HS location, 2) identify the planning and supports needed for WIC markets to be successful at this non-traditional (EHS/HS) location, and 3) better understand Georgia farmers’ experience with the WIC FMNP.

The first pilot revealed that hosting WIC markets at EHS/HS programs allows families with young children to access fresh, local produce at a convenient location and time (e.g. school pick-up or drop-off), and provided us with valuable findings to improve future farmers’ markets. The close partnership between county-level WIC offices and EHS/HS programs was a major factor in the first round’s success, while interviews with farmers highlighted areas for improvement in WIC FMNP certification licensing and training processes. These findings, among others, will inform the second pilot. Initial recommendations consider both farmer and parent experience and highlight opportunities at the state and local level to increase the success of WIC-EHS/HS farmers’ markets.

This research demonstrates that hosting WIC markets at EHS/HS locations is one opportunity to increase convenient access to nutritious foods for WIC families. The second round of this research, to be conducted during the 2020-2021 WIC FMNP season, will further explore barriers and facilitators of hosting WIC markets at EHS/HS locations.

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COVID-19’s Impact on Food Access

Prior to March 2020, one in six children in Georgia struggled with hunger, with Black households experiencing food insecurity at nearly double the rate of White households.  According to the U.S. Census Household Pulse Survey, COVID-19 has magnified food insecurity across the country, as well as in Georgia: more than 430,000 households in the state reported experiencing food insecurity in September 2020, compared to approximately 397,000 in early March 2020 – an 8% increase.

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Key Findings in Our Report

Holding WIC farmers’ markets at EHS/HS locations is feasible, but a number of factors must align in order for them to successfully reach a large number of EHS/HS families. Many aspects (e.g. parent engagement, market visibility, farmer outreach, etc.) should be considered when planning and implementing WIC markets at EHS/HS locations.

A collaborative relationship between the local WIC office and EHS/HS site is necessary for a successful WIC FMNP implementation. These relationships are critical to the operationalization of WIC markets as they provide supports and resources throughout the planning process.

The current WIC FMNP season may not align with parental availability or farmer harvest schedules. Current WIC FMNP season from June through September may unintentionally create a barrier of access for WIC participants attending HS programs following a traditional school calendar, as many HS are not in session for the majority of the market season.

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Key Recommendations in Our Report

As a result of the first pilot findings, Voices offers the following initial recommendations to support successful WIC EHS/HS farmers markets.

EARLY HEAD START/HEAD START

  • Collaborate with GaFCP coordinators and local WIC offices for market support.
  • Create market schedules that accomodate family schedules, increase family participation, and increase farmer participation.

Georgia WIC FMNP

  • Consider extending WIC FMNP farmers’ market season.
  • Engage farmers to identify and address WIC FMNP training and certification challenges.
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