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Using Farmers Markets to Tackle Childhood Obesity

By , SparkPeople Blogger
I’ve blogged in the past about my love for farmers’ markets. They have such a wide array of fruits and vegetables that I’ve been able to try things I might never have noticed otherwise. Now a unique program in Massachusetts is using farmers’ markets to expose low-income children to these foods and help combat childhood obesity.

Doctors at three Massachusetts health centers have been giving coupons to their young, low-income patients to be used at local farmers’ markets. The coupons equal about $1 per day. Coupons are given to each member of the patient’s family, and are supposed to be redeemed for the fruit or vegetable “prescription” that the doctor has given. The purpose is to encourage families to try new foods and increase their daily consumption of fruits and vegetables.

The idea of using farmers markets to improve dietary habits is not new. There are currently 36 states that issue farmers’ market coupons to low-income women and children. But the idea of a doctor writing prescriptions for specific fruits and vegetables is a new concept. The doctors will track participants eating patterns and weight to see if the program has an effect on their health.

Some people have questioned the ability of this program to change eating habits long-term, especially as fall approaches and farmers’ markets close. Will families continue trying to buy a variety of produce on their own? Will they be able to afford it? Does it matter if they are eating more fruits and vegetables if they are still snacking on chips and soda?

While I understand the hesitation to expect big results, I think programs like this are a unique step in the right direction. They are supporting local farmers while making the effort to improve the health of young people in the area.

What do you think? Is this kind of program a good idea? Have you seen anything similar where you live?

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GEORGE815 3/11/2018
Great thing to introduce those to healthy food purchasing and later preparation for their diet. Report
Farmers markets are great, but generally open only one day a week in a given location. In other countries, there are fruit/veggie stands on street corners. They are staffed by 1-2 people throughout the day, especially during the hours when people are returning home from school and work. Generally they are near bus stops. It is just as easy to buy one plum as a snack while waiting as a a bundle of asparagus for dinner. And the next day there will be more available.
It makes buying produce easy and available, rather than the result of a special trip. Report
I think it is a wonderful idea. I just hoped farmer's market were opened year round especially because there are vegetables that thrive in cooler months. May do it in a closed space? Report
I love shopping at farmers markets. Once in awhile I'll find something we didn't actually grow in our own garden. Report
This is a great idea and I am a witness it is working, there is a farmers market I go to and it is plenty mommy's there using stamps and coupons. There is also a truck that parks in the same place on Tues, that people bring a bag and they fill it with fruit and veggies for $2.00 a bag! I think this is great for people who can't afford these items other wise!! Report
I can't wait for our local farmers to start selling their produce. My granddaughter keeps asking when will we go strawberry picking. She loves the fresh strawberries. Last year we had so much fun that we didn't realize that we had picked $60. worth of them. We also go to another farmer and get apples for my daughter's Accidental Apple sauce which can be found on her Mommy made 4 me site through We also go to the local farmer's market and pick up fresh broccoli, carrots and green beans. In the winter sometimes we have to go to Whole Foods. It is not the same as the local farmer. I highly recommend it. Report
I love the farmer's market, I am there at least once a week. It is not only less expensive, but the fruits and veggies are fresher. Recently I bought some apples at the grocery store (cause I had to pick up some lunch items for the kids lunch boxes, and it was easier to get them there) When I get home I added them to the fruit basket on the table and notice how small they were compaired to the Farmer's markets ones. Same kind of apple only much smaller. Report
Our local farmer's market has moved to its winter location - in one of the town's elementary schools. As part of their 'rent' the vendors are giving produce to the school for the lunches - win win situation all around - we, along with the school kids, get to have fresh local produce!! The market is also set up to accept food stamps and I think some other food support programs. Report
I like to go to farmer's markets, but need to go more often. Report
I also grew up thinking fruit and fresh vegetables were a special treat. I think this is a wonderful idea and I hope many low income families get the chance to experience this. It will change their taste for veggies and fruits for the better. Report
I think the coupons to the farmers markets are a great idea. I come from a low income family and i grew up thinking fruits was a special treat. My mother would shop once a week and would buy some fruit then, those would only last us about 2 or 3 days. We always had plenty of vegetable though as we grew a lot of own vegetable and my mother would freeze and can those for the winter months. Report
I went to the farmer's market with my son for the first time ever earlier this summer- we both love it! He loves seeing all the food & picking out what he wants. I love that it's cheap! And ours is indoors & open year round! We try to go once every 2-3wks. Report
The produce at the farmers markets I have been at are cheaper then the grocery store and maybe the children would be able to choose something they wouldn't usually try - I think it's a great idea! Report
I can't speak from personal experience, but my sister is a home economics (or FCS) teacher for high school students, and she has been busy raising her 11 month old son. Her husband and her dad both are very picky, very stubborn eaters, so over the summer, my sister, our mom, and my nephew and I went around to different farms, farmers markets, and different places that we knew the men wouldn't like. Her hope is to teach AJ to love different foods, even if his dad doesn't like them himself. I can't wait to show her this and see what she thinks! Report
What a great idea! Halloween will soon be upon us. I might just make up some gift certificates from my favorite farmers market and give them out to trick or treaters. I wonder how many would be redeemed! Report
I think that the idea for local doctors to give vouchers to farmers' produce instead of medical prescriptions is a brilliant idea.
Far too much food goes to waste, just because it isn't the right shape or size for supermarkets to sell.
Well, my goodness, is it not just time to tell supermarkets that they do NOT actually run the country!
Please - make more of the so-called "unfit" produce available, and not have it ploughed back in as farming landfill. Report
Great idea! It's amazing how many kids and people in general don't know the names of fruits and particularly vegetables! Once you've been exposed to a new food, especially if you are allowed to prepare it and then eat it yourself, the chances of expanding your palate to include nutritious foods rises.
Our local whole foods is also taking donations to promote salad bars in the local schools - now THAT's worth supporting!!! Report
This is such a fantastic idea! Report
This is absolutely the right step, and in the right direction. Give kids an incentive and they will do just about anything. Report
This sounds like a great program. Report
I think this is awesome. In many places farmers markets move indoors for the cold months. The farmers market near me moves indoors and has one every other weekend. Hopefully the higher demand for farmers markets will make this a regular practice everywhere! -Allie Report
I believe that this is a great idea. Just this summer we tried a new vegtable in our garden and the whole family just loved it, so now we have another option that works with the children as well as the adults. You do not know until you try so giving families coupons for a fruit/vegtable is great.
During the summer my kids eat produce like they drink water and I believe it helps them throught the year. They may not get the variety during the winter, but they have the taste for the fresh so we just purchase the basic fruits and vegtables throught the winter. If you purchase what is in season or just the basic apples, oranges, carrots, and celery in the winter it is actually less expensive than chips. Report
This is a wonderfully positive intervention that benefits everyone involved. Report
Definitely a super idea! Even if you're still snacking on unhealthy items, studies have shown that eating salad before dinner can help prevent overeating during the meal. In my opinion, the same is true regarding other veggies and fruits (abundant at farmers markets).

Also, when my husband and I walk around our farmers market, we're always intrigued with the selection. We try new produce. We cook more often. Both are parts of a healthy lifestyle and expose you to a much wider nutrient diversity than a bag of chips or a candy bar. Report
The farmers market is EXPENSIVE compared to the Supermarkets. Being poor
is 3 meals per day and 2 snacks...the government allocates 1 of each; protein, starch and vegetable based on a1955 consumption. Supermarket 93% lean ground beef at $5.49 per pound, is more expensive than 80% at $3.49. Supermarket Romaine lettuce $1.99 per pound FM $2.49. Peaches $1.69 to FM $1.89. String beans (green beans) Supermarket $1.49, FM 1.69.

The voucher program is great for those who don't mind buying the bruised veggies and fruits at $1.00 a bag.
There is also a voucher program for seniors in Pennsylvania. A $20 voucher a year sounds horrible but helpful. I wish it were more often but the average Social Security for seniors is less than $1000 a month. They live the 1955 consumption rate...see the tattered clothing and shoes they wear? Report
I truly hope that the people who feel that they are appropriately sitting in judgment on "poor" people and the food choices they make are never in the position of having to make the decisions that poor people and families have to make. Access to fresh vegetables and fruits is not guaranteed in the inner-city storefront groceries that many poor people must patronize; there are studies out there (for instance, Journal article by Chanjin Chung, Samuel L. Myers Jr.; Journal of Consumer Affairs, Vol. 33, 1999) which suggest that although prices at the large chain grocery stores don't vary much between inner-city and suburbs, the independent store prices are significantly higher and the chain stores don't tend to locate in the inner city (which probably has to do with the price of real estate in the city - my comment); so those who live in the inner city are limited to what the storefront market offers. Fresh food is perishable - and if it doesn't sell, the store owner loses money (which he or she must recoup by charging more for those items which do sell). It is really easy to blame people for their circumstances, but difficult to remember that many of us are only one or two paychecks (or a major medical catastrophe) away from poverty ourselves.

This more recent article from the Christian Science Monitor also provides some information about other obstacles people can face -

Love this idea! Wish more states could do this. Report
i've seen signs posted at our local farmers market for vouchers given to low-income families to use for fresh fruits and vegs. every little bit helps! once you get a child to eat a fresh ripe peach, they will never forget how wonderful it was and will want more. Report
Great idea! I'm all for getting people to use fresh fruits and vegetables -- and making them more accessible is fantastic. Localy our farmers' markets run from 12:00 - 4:00 or from 1:00 - 6:00; we've found that at the last half hour, the farmers will drop prices and even give food away so they don't have to pack it up and take it home again.

LarSil Report
My Mom is actually doing her doctoral dissertation right now on ways to combat childhood obesity. I can't wait to forward this to her- she'll love it! It's a great idea, and one that I really hope takes off. Report
That is a fantastic idea. We do not have anything like this in Australia. Report
It's a great idea. However, my children love fruits and eat them like candy. They did not have candy at all when they were little - the day care introduce candy to them! They will take apples or grapes and enjoy them as well as other sweets.

It's a habbit instill since they were young. Report
this is good if you can get them in there with it they are more apt to try and come back!!! Report
Awesome!! Report
Federal Government, through the Agricultural division gave out grants for the elderly and those people with disabilities 30 dollars a month for purchases made at farmers markets. I haven't seen them this year for in 2008 and 2009, I saw low income people shopping at the market. Council on Aging had pickup points and got them to and from the market downtown on Saturday. It was a wonderful program and I know the states/cities had to apply for the grants. Report
Hmmm, great idea!!! Report
It is a good idea.. even if it is only a summer program--any good nutrition is better than none at all. It is true that fresh fruits and vegetables are more expensive than a lot of the junk foods especially in the winter time when many of them come in from South America.
i have not heard of anything like that around here but I do not have children and we do not have a good farmer's market near us so not sure what kind of programs they may have in the area. Report
Yes. We have a similar program called Project Fresh in Michigan. I think the program is very worthwhile. It connects healthy, local, fresh food to those that might not have money to purchase. Report
I LOVE this idea. It is a very unique idea and I think doctors nowadays do need to start prescribing a healthy diet of fruits and veggies to help ailing patients, instead of medications. I'm sure there are some instances where patients need medication immediately, but in those instances they could also implement a healthy diet plan. I think this is where nutritionists/dietitians will be most needed in the future if doctors continue to go in this direction. Report
I think its great! I am a grant writer and we just were awarded a grant to teach poor people who are suffering with serious mental illness how to garden, shop, cook healthfully, and are even sending them to culinary school so they can start a healthy catering business! Report
I love this idea -- we each have a different set of experiences in our lives. Helping others experience better health seems to be what SparkPeople is all about, right? Report
I think it's a great idea, but it's still up to the parent to actually take the child to the farmer's market which may be difficult if they're working three minimum wage jobs to make ends meet. It would work better if partnerships were formed between the doctors and local retailers like Trader Joe's or Sprouts, which would also address the seasonality issue. I think it's unfair, though, to only offer it to low income families. Mid and high income families also need produce and would benefit from such a program and this could be built into the cost of the doctor's visit. Childhood obesity is a problem across income lines. As far as eating less chips and snacks it may work. The theory is that if you fill up on the good stuff there is less room for the bad stuff. Seems to work for my family, but may not work for everyone. Report
I think its a great idea. In Mass you get double food at a lot of farmers markets if you have and use an EBT card. (more markets all the time.) Report
I think it is a wonderful idea! Definitely a step in the right direction! Report
I honestly don't know if it is a great idea for long tem solutions or as a way to kick junk food to the curb. I do know, however, that my boys LOVE to go to the Farmer's Market and seem more interested in fruits and veggies there verses the grocery store. They WANT to try the offerings at the Farmer's Market! Report
Love it. A wonderful idea.
Many poor people are trying to stretch each dollar.
(ramen noodles, etc.) Report
What a fantastic idea! Report
I THINK IT'S A GREAT IDEA--I WONDER IF THE DOCTORS, THEMSELVES, PAY FOR IT? IT WOULD BE A GREAT PROGRAM FOR COMPETITIVE FARMERS' MARKETS TO PARTICIPATE IN AND MATCH THE DOCTOR'S COUPONS...i agree that the fall and closing of the farmers' markets could throw a wrench in the works...but, 6 months is better than 0 months... Report
I think that this is a good program. It gives the poor an opportunity to try different fruits and vegetables that they would not ordinarily buy or taste. Sometimes, people need a little push to do the right thing. Report
I think this is a great idea. It is proven that fruits and vegetables are better for your overall health and wellbeing, so these drs are being very proactive in their patients care. I wish more of these type programs were being offered, and if they are - more people should be aware of them. Report
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