SOUTH NEWFANE — Tasked with coming up with a policy proposal for a graduate school class, Juliette Carr originally thought her idea might be too simple. She wanted the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants and Children benefits to be redeemable at farmers markets in Vermont just like those associated with Electronic Benefit Transfer cards.
“That’s problematic because WIC is much more broadly available,” she said.
Carr wrote a policy brief with the goal of improving health equity, access to healthy food and health disparities. She also looked at the economic perspective — federal funds from the WIC benefits would go to small family farms largely owned by women or Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) community members who are working on small margins. She pointed out rural areas tend to have a lot more farmers markets, which are closer than stores selling food.
Her idea was very well received by her teacher and classmates. She then sent it to state Rep. Mari Cordes, D-Addison-4, who immediately replied.
“She thought it was great,” Carr said.
When the proposal was explored as a bill, it turned out the technology used at farmers markets wouldn’t work for WIC benefits. That was weird to Carr because she said the equipment is the same at grocery stores accepting both benefits.
The bill is meant to commence a study to explore the technology to make the WIC benefits redeemable at farmers markets.
Carr is set to graduate from the family nurse practitioner program at Georgetown University in August. She also runs a herbal medicine business called Old Ways Herbal.
Her hope is to find a primary care job somewhere in the community. Her interests are in health equity and health access. She also has a background in trauma-informed care, which she’d like to combine with integrative medicine in whatever job she finds in the future.
“I don’t think there’s a lot of health equity in integrative medicine around here,” she said. “It can be prohibitively expensive for people on a fixed income.”
Carr moved from Brooklyn, N.Y., to Vermont in 2005 then lived all over the United States. She returned here permanently in 2013 and resides with her husband and two daughters on a farm in South Newfane.
The American Nurses Association of Vermont asked Carr to join its legislative committee. She said the group talks directly with lawmakers about legislation deemed important to nurses.
“I’m interested in the wellbeing of the profession as a whole,” she said, but she’s also interested in all the ways non-health-care issues affect people’s health. “Nurses need to be in on those conversations. We’re boots on the ground.”
Nurses, she said, understand the bigger picture of how health care affects the lives of people. She recently was a featured speaker at a roundtable with senators and Lt. Gov. Molly Gray.
Carr also is a co-founder of West River Valley Mutual Aid, which helps ensure community members are getting essential things they need such as food, medicine and socialization. Three neighbors started the group last spring.
“We really built something,” Carr said. “It’s really cool. We have over 200 people now in our group. We got a bunch of working groups on different topics.”
Listed on westrivervalleymutualaid.wordpress.com are efforts to help run errands, go on walks with people or make visits, welcome new community members, deliver food, assist local organizations and take on anti-racist initiatives. The group also brought Everyone Eats, a Vermont program distributing restaurant meals to anyone affected by COVID-19, to Newfane.
Carr called the mutual aid model “very flexible.” For her, it’s all about neighbors helping neighbors.
At one point, the group offered to assist with COVID-19 vaccination signups. No one needed help with the registration process but they did need rides to get to the clinics.
Carr likes the idea of building projects based on what resonates with people and what services they need or can offer to others, with no condescension or “power differential.” She recalled how community members were isolated and worried about their financial situation when the pandemic hit last year.
“It was scary for most of the local residents I know,” she said. “If they weren’t scared for their economics, they were scared for their neighbors’.”
Over the last year, Carr feels the group has accomplished much in the way of easing these feelings. She said projects helped her feel like she was doing something useful.
“I am young,” she said. “I am healthy. I was in Group 1A to be vaccinated. I have a car. I have a lot of privilege that came up this year.”
She said it felt good for her to run an errand for someone who might be worried about their health, and for her children, who are 2 and 4 years old, to see how to help community members during a difficult time. Projects also got them out of the house.
Recently, Carr was one of 53 people nominated for a 2021 Emerging Leader Award. The awards, according to an email to nominees from the Southern Vermont Young Professionals and Shires Young Professionals, “will highlight those young professionals who went above and beyond during this unprecedented time for our generation.”
“This year presented enormous challenges, but it also offered unique opportunities for ordinary people to support their communities in crucial ways,” the email states.