Catawba County Public Health Farmers Market

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Health Promotion
Catawba County Public Health, North Carolina
June 11, 2014

The Catawba County Public Health Farmers Market opened May 5, 2013, in the parking lot at Catawba County Public Health to increase redemption of Women, Infants and Children (WIC) farmers market vouchers and improve community access to fresh produce in an area food desert.

Catawba County is home to six food deserts (areas where access to a grocery store is up to 10 miles away from where residents live, and where transportation is a barrier) in rural and urban areas. Obesity is also a health priority in Catawba County, where 38.1% of children ages 2-18 are overweight or obese.

The county is home to four farmers markets; however, only two are certified to accept farmers market vouchers from Catawba County Public Health’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program. Catawba County’s WIC program serves more than 4,000 low income women and children each month.

In 2012, the redemption rate for these vouchers was 51.29% in Catawba County and 47.43% in North Carolina. The average redemption rates for both the county and state had consistently hovered around 50% for several years. While the county’s WIC clinic distributed every farmers market voucher it received to WIC clients, the vouchers remained underutilized. Considering the lower-income population served and the locations of the other farmers markets, WIC believed access to the county’s WIC-certified farmers markets might be a key reason and wanted to develop strategies to change that. A farmers market right outside its doors was an ideal solution.

Located in a food desert, Catawba County Public Health established a new community farmers market – the Catawba County Public Health Farmers Market – in its parking lot in 2013. It opened to the public May 5, 2013, and was operated on Thursdays from 11:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. for 24 weeks between May and October 2013. The market, the development of which began in September 2012, was a partnership between Catawba County Public Health, its WIC program, and its local obesity prevention coalition (Eat Smart Move More Catawba County).

Catawba County Public Health believed the market’s location along a convenient and well-traveled corridor just behind a major medical center would, by its very existence, help increase access and consumption among the general public, residents, local workers, and visitors to the area. In order to ensure the market could also serve WIC clients by accepting WIC vouchers, Catawba County Public Health requested and was granted approval from the North Carolina WIC office and the North Carolina Department of Agriculture to operate as a WIC-certified market. The market then required all farmers who sold there to be certified to accept WIC vouchers (along with cash) as payment for their produce.

The Catawba County Public Health Farmers Market served an average of 181 customers on a weekly basis, with a high of 298 at the peak of market season. Over the course of 24 weeks, the market hosted a total of 4,338 new and repeat customers.

Of the 415 market customers who completed surveys over the course of market season, 88.4% agreed or strongly agreed with the following statement: “This farmers market helps me to increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables my family eats.” Among WIC clients surveyed, this number was even higher at 95%. Based on this feedback, the market was highly successful in helping increase produce consumption for market customers.

The Catawba County WIC program distributed a total of 2,544 farmers market vouchers to 424 individuals in 2013. The final 2013 WIC farmers market redemption rate for Catawba County was 62.88%, which represents a 22.6% increase from the 2012 redemption rate of 51.29%. This significant jump propelled Catawba County’s WIC office to third highest in the state for farmers market voucher redemptions in 2013. A total of 1,222 WIC farmers market vouchers were redeemed, with an average of 76 spent per market.

“It takes a village.” A total of 27 Catawba County employees plus several Eat Smart Move More Catawba County members and community volunteers were involved in various aspects of the market, including market planning, funding, management, set up, tear down, education, training, and promotion.

Catawba County Public Health’s Health Promotion Coordinator was designated to serve as Market Manager and oversaw on-site market operations each week. She was assisted by a rotating team of Assistant Managers, which consisted of several Catawba County Public Health staff members, volunteers, Eat Smart Move More members, and other Catawba County staff. Together, they staffed the market’s information booth, welcomed customers, assisted vendors, facilitated customer surveys and kids’ activities, handed out literature, and ensured the market ran smoothly each week.

Additionally, because the market would take place in its parking lot, Catawba County Public Health staff worked with Catawba County’s attorney and risk manager to ensure all market operating policies and procedures met safety standards and were consistent with legal guidelines.

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