PUYALLUP, Wash. — More than 7,000 lower-income older adults in Washington state will benefit from farm-fresh fruits and vegetables again this summer, thanks to the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Seniors receive farmers’ market “checks” from the state Department of Social and Health Services to buy produce and Washington State University provides information about using the produce and it’s nutritional value.
“Our goal is to help participating seniors improve their health by providing information on how best to shop at farmers’ markets and the benefits of eating fresh produce, and to encourage them to try fruits and vegetables they haven’t had before,” said JoAnn Manke, a nutritionist with WSU’s Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Education Program.
Last year the program served 8,981 low-income people over 60 in the state, resulting in the purchase of nearly 90 tons of produce and $275,300 in sales for local farmers, according to DSHS.
Program participants receive either farmers’ market “checks” redeemable for fresh produce at participating farmers’ markets and roadside stands, or produce is purchased from farmers and community-supported agriculture programs and delivered to homebound seniors, meal sites and senior housing. The farmers redeem the checks for cash. This year DSHS is distributing the checks in early July through Area Agencies on Aging, senior nutrition providers and food banks. They are valid through October.
WSU sponsors a Web site, http://nutrition.wsu.edu/markets/, that provides shopping tips, recipes, and nutrition and food safety information that is made available to senior participants through senior nutrition providers and program partners. According to Manke, farmers’ markets are also happy to provide the information for their customers. Manke points to research from WSU’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources that shows nutritional value is one of the top criteria for consumers when buying food.
As a result of Manke’s work, several farmers’ markets will be offering cooking demonstrations this summer. Schedules of events are available through the market managers at the Vancouver farmers’ market, Columbia City farmers’ market, Olympia farmers’ market and the Puyallup Main Street farmers’ market.
“It’s a great program because it not only helps seniors to get more fresh fruits and vegetables into their diet, it goes directly into improving the income of Washington small farmers,” Manke said. “The people in the program really like the fact that they are helping support local farms through their participation.”
Evaluations conducted at the close of the 2003 program indicate that both participants and farmers benefit from the program and educational effort.
- Two-thirds of participating seniors who responded to the survey said that they tried fresh fruits and vegetables that were new to them, and 54 percent say they learned new ways to prepare their produce. Nearly 80 percent said they found the produce from farmers and farmers’ markets was of better quality than that at their regular grocery store.
- A survey of participating farmers found that 81 percent of those responding saw an increase in sales because of the program. When asked if they would like to see the program expand, 73 percent said yes, and 89 percent said they would recommend participation to other farmers in their area.
- Ninety-four percent of participating seniors responding to the survey said they ate more fresh fruits and vegetables than usual, and 86 percent said they intended to eat more fresh produce year round. Seventy-six percent of recipients said they would continue to shop at farmers markets even without the program coupons.
Funding for the program comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Washington State Attorney General’s Office Vitamin Settlement Fund. Limited funding means that only a limited number of eligible seniors will be able to participate. Despite its success, the program may be in jeopardy next year when the vitamin settlement funding is no longer available.
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