Combining Services to Increase Access to Local Produce

Summer Vegetation for Everyone

Summer is a wonderful time to buy fresh produce- everything seems to be in abundance! The juicy tomatoes are making their mark on every sandwich and salad, the summer squash add their bright color and flavor to any dinner dish, and the bountiful fresh herbs can be thrown into every single meal to add a flavor profile that is complex in taste but easy in practice. What an opportune time to fill up on the local Virginia produce!

But, what about those that cannot always afford to purchase fresh produce or shop at local farmer’s markets?

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program

The Farmers Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) is supported by the VA Department for Aging and Rehabilitation Services-Division of Aging, the VA Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the USDA. The FMNP provides checks to Seniors and WIC families for the purchase of local produce at Farmers Markets. The Augusta-Staunton Health Department, one of seven serving the Central Shenandoah Health District, began issuing Farmer’s Market checks 2 years ago to their WIC participants hoping to enable them to obtain fresh fruit and vegetables. This Health District is in fact the largest in Virginia, in terms of square mileage, and is filled with rural areas.

Another Challenge – Access

For some living in rural areas, access to food assistance programs is a major challenge. Through a survey the Augusta-Staunton Health Department conducted with their WIC clients, they came to understand that while their clients were enthusiastic about the possibility of receiving local produce, many did not have the time nor means of transportation to travel to their nearest Farmers Markets during their operational days.

Increasing Access – The Farmer’s Market Initiative

To address this issue and increase access to produce, the Augusta-Staunton Health Department WIC Program decided to bring the farmers market directly to the WIC location. The goal is to bring the local farmers to the Health Department on a day when WIC clients will already be coming to the Health Department for other WIC services, thereby reducing the difficulty of transportation issues.

Along with several partners:

  • Project GROWS, a non-profit farm located in Verona
  • Troyer’s Produce located in Waynesboro
  • JMD Farms located in Staunton

Project GROWS, who acts as the Fiscal Manager, was chosen for this joint venture

  • both Project GROWS and the WIC Program have common goals of improving the health of young children through access to nutritious foods
  • because of their experience is successfully running two other Farmers Markets in Augusta County.


The WIC participants are able to come in for their appointments, check-ups and nutrition education programs, receive their Farmers Market Vouchers, and then proceed to spend their Farmers Market checks to purchase fresh produce from the farmers right there on the Health Department property!

Since the start of the Health Department Farmers Market Initiative on July 8th, the return rate of the Farmers Market checks has increased dramatically. This successful initiative means that

  • WIC participants are able to have easier access to fresh produce that promote their good health
  • local farmers are finding a new way to increase their selling capacity, which ultimately enhances the local economy.

You can find pictures from their Farmer’s Market on Facebook at the Central Shenandoah Health District and you can contact the Staunton Health Department at (540) 332-7830 to find out more information on who is able to receive these Farmers Market checks as well as ways you can help enhance their initiative.

You can also contact Project GROWS at if you are looking to volunteer your time on the farm harvesting and tending to their beds!

It always feels good doing something to help out your community and volunteering with a local farm can provide a whole new appreciation for the fresh local food we are able to enjoy here in Virginia!

Jenna Clark from Project GROWS

Photo 1: Jenna Clark, from Project GROWS, sets up for the first Health Department Farmers Market. Credit to the Facebook page of Central Shenandoah Health District.


Trayers Produce and Project GROWS

Photo 2: Troyer’s Produce and Project GROWS attract some happy clients during the Farmers Market. Credit to the Facebook page of Central Shenandoah Health District.



Kat Huntley

Kat Huntley is a senior at James Madison University, where she majors in Dietetics and serves as the Vice President of the Dietetics Association. She enjoys being an engaged community member and looks to stay active in her volunteer work geared towards improving the equity of healthy food access. She has a passion for advocating for the health of the vulnerable and believes that food is a fundamental part of life that has the power to bring people together! Contact:

5 Tips for a Healthy 4th of July

Fourth of July blog

The smell of barbecue, the sounds of fireworks, and the outdoor feasts are all parts of America’s favorite holiday.  Here are five tips to help you indulge without abandoning weight management.


  1. Think about your drink.

Prioritize your indulgences.  Only consume calorie-filled beverages if they are really special.  Ask yourself: “Would I get a lot of pleasure out of this?”  Skip the soda, punch, and lemonade if the answer is “no”.   Some of these drinks contain 200 calories per serving.  It is really easy to mindlessly drink 3 to 4 servings…600-800 calories worth.  Drink water or iced tea instead and save the calories for food.

Some people like having a couple of alcoholic drinks.  Always drink responsibly!  Remember that these drinks have calories too.  Beers can range from 90-240 calories per 12 fl. oz. and a margarita can contain as many as 800 calories.  If watching your waistline, then opt for the low-cal beers, the sugar-free mixes, and stick to one drink.


  1. Don’t forget your veggies.

People eat food that is in front of them, so provide a plethora of veggies.  Everything from carrot sticks to bell pepper slices are tasty treats.  Grill eggplant and zucchini with some garlic, rosemary, and olive oil.  Try to get as many veggies in the mix as possible.  Vegetables are full of nutrients, antioxidants, and fiber.  They are filling and light.  Replace the creamy dips with guacamole, hummus, and pesto for a healthier spread.


  1. Meet your meat.

Grill burgers that are made with lean meat.  A 3.5 oz. beef patty is 300 calories.  Leaner choices will reduce calories and unhealthy fat content.  A lean turkey patty is around 180 calories while a 93% lean beef patty is about 150 calories.

Don’t be quick to rule out a veggie burger.  Food scientists have been hard at work to improve the flavor and texture of veggie burgers.  Some people cannot tell the difference.


  1. Set boundaries.

Independence Day feasts are filled with “trigger” foods.  These are foods that are mindlessly consumed in an addictive fashion.  Different people have different trigger foods, but these foods tend to be unhealthy when overconsumed.  Some examples include chips, crackers, pretzels, chocolate, cake, etc.  The best way to go about these foods is to set boundaries with yourself.  For example:

  • “All chips are off limits today.”
  • “I will have only one dessert today.”
  • “I will say ‘no’ when someone offers me a third beer. Two beers is my limit.”


  1. Eat the healthiest foods first.

Fill up on fruits and veggies to help fend off the drive to eat large quantities of less healthy foods.  Drink lots of water and stay hydrated.  Pay attention to feelings of hunger and fullness.  Rate your hunger from 1 (low) to 5 (painfully high).  If you are at level 1 or 2, then wait 15 minutes before putting anything in your mouth.


Happy 4th of July!


About the Author:

Devon L Golem PhD RD


Devon L. Golem, PhD, RD

Devon is the VAND Professional Education Chair and lives in Charlottesville, VA.  She is the founder and CEO of the Institute of Continuing Education for Nutrition Professionals.  Please email her with any questions or comments about the blog at