Ahead of farmer's market season, the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS) encourages Montana farmers to join the state’s Farm Direct Program, which makes it possible for participants in the Montana Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to purchase food directly from local farmers.

“This is an excellent opportunity for farmers to get additional sales on their locally grown fruits and vegetables,” said Lacy Little, director of the Montana Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that oversees Farm Direct. “It also helps WIC participants access locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables during the summer months.”

Farm Direct is administered through nine local WIC agencies including Lewis and Clark County WIC, and Cascade County WIC.

Farm Direct is a state-administered federal nutrition program that authorizes farmers to accept WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program Benefits (FMNP) at farmer's markets, roadside stands, or even their farms. Farm Direct loosely defines farmers to include recreational growers who grow their produce in their backyard and professional farms. Once authorized, the farmer can begin selling their produce and accepting benefits right away.

“I am a farmer who chooses to sell my produce each summer right here in Hardin,” said Hardin famer Mark Zerbe. “I set up my stand in a convenient location and display my Farm Direct poster where it is easy to see on top of my stand. I am looking forward to this summer and will have more fresh veggies to sell.”

On average, about 125 farmers participate in the Farm Direct program each summer. The season runs from June 15 to September 30, and farmers have until October 31 to redeem their vouchers at their local bank for payment.

All WIC eligible families, in participating WIC FMNP agencies, can participate. Approximately 3,200 WIC families participate in Farm Direct, with most of the beneficiaries children. Participants receive $30 worth of vouchers to use at a farmers’ market or farm stand. However, because funds are allocated by participant, not by household, a mother with two young children could receive $90 for the summer. Eligible foods include fresh local fruits and vegetables. Foods such as baked goods, cheese, eggs, honey, and plants are not eligible.

Farmers interested in learning more can contact Glade Roos of the Farm Direct Program at 406-444-2841 or email at groos@mt.gov. Farmers can also reach out directly to any of the nine participating WIC FMNP agencies.

WIC in Montana includes 35 local agencies and over 80 clinic sites serving all 56 counties and seven tribal reservations. In Montana, almost 14,000 women, infants, and children are enrolled. However, only 55% of eligible families are signed up.

WIC eligibility requires participants to be pregnant, postpartum, breastfeeding, or have a child younger than five. Participants must also meet income requirements—making less than 185% of the Federal Poverty Level or qualify for Medicaid, SNAP, TANF, or the free/reduced school meal program. Specific WIC eligibility guidelines can be found on the DPHHS website.

WIC was created in 1974 to help families and young children during a critical time of growth and development. The program’s benefits include providing families access to healthy food, breastfeeding education, referral to other health and social services, and much more. WIC is a voluntary program, and participation does not interfere with other programs such as SNAP or Medicaid.

To learn more about WIC or for eligibility requirements, go HERE. Families can also contact their local WIC clinic or sign up HERE . The state office may be reached at 1-800-433-4298 or via email at montanawicprogram@mt.gov.

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