New Jersey is celebrating National Farmer’s Market Week, which runs through Saturday, by encouraging people to go out and buy produce from local farmers, particularly if they use federal supplement programs.

Cathleen D. Bennett, commissioner of the state Department of Health, and Douglas H. Fisher, secretary of the state Department of Agriculture, will join Bridgeton Mayor Albert Kelly and federal officials at Rottkamp Farms in Bridgeton on Thursday in support of farmers market programs throughout the state.

Eligible participants in the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Programs can trade their farmers’ market nutrition checks for prepackaged bags of fresh fruits and vegetables grown at Rottkamp Farms. They will also get recipes on how to prepare the produce.

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“This program helps local farmers sell fresh fruits and vegetables while providing families healthy, nutritious produce. But only 66 percent of WIC Farmers Market vouchers were redeemed statewide in 2016,” Bennett said in a statement.

Bennett said that meant more than $300,000 worth of fresh produce that could have gone to families was returned to the federal government.

The health department’s WIC program oversees the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program and Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. There are 210 certified farmers statewide serving all 21 New Jersey counties.

A bill sponsored by Assemblymen Vincent Mazzeo, D-Atlantic, Adam Taliaferro, D-Cumberland, Gloucester, Salem, and others was passed by the state Assembly in June with the aim of increasing access to fresh produce for people using the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and the WIC program.

The WIC Services Unit in the state Department of Health would be able to authorize SNAP farmers market vendors for the WIC nutrition program by just seeing SNAP documentation.

Currently, farmers markets have to get separate authorization from the state WIC unit for two nutrition programs and the U.S. Department of Agriculture for SNAP to participate in these programs.

Farmers markets increase access to nutritious food, support healthy communities, address food insecurity, preserve farmland and stimulate local economies, state experts said.

“This partnership provides an avenue for people to have greater access to Jersey Fresh produce,” Fisher said in a statement.

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609-272-7022 NLeonard@pressofac.com Twitter @ACPressNLeonard

Previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe

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