The Columbus Farmers” Market again is offering seniors greater access to healthy, locally grown foods — like fruits, vegetables, honey and fresh-cut herbs — by participating in a state program allowing them to use vouchers at the market.
Organized and funded through the Mississippi Department of Agriculture, the Senior Farmers” Market Nutrition Program provides access to good nutrition for low-income senior citizens, while promoting the purchase of Mississippi-grown fruits and vegetables at local farmers” markets, by distributing vouchers which vendors accept for produce.
“It is a win-win,” Columbus Main Street Director Amber Murphree Brislin said of the Columbus Farmers” Market”s participation in the program. “It helps increase farmers” sales and ensures the importance of qualifying seniors to be able to obtain nutritious and locally grown produce. This is also another direct advantage to the community for having a successful and local farmers” market.
“We worked to get the program off the ground last year and, with work and increased participation and voucher acceptance from the vendors, the program will continue to grow not only locally, but throughout the state,” she added, noting about two-thirds of the Columbus market”s 36 annual vendors accept vouchers.
The Senior Farmers” Market Nutrition Program awards grants to states to provide low-income seniors with coupons or vouchers to be exchanged for eligible foods at local farmers” markets, road-side stands and community supported agriculture programs.
The vouchers are available on a one-time basis to residents over the age of 60 who are receiving services from their local Agency on Aging.
Checks for $28 — seven checks valued at $4 each — are issued from designated agency staff members at local feeding sites, through home delivered meals and to Medicaid waiver recipients.
The checks can be redeemed for the purchase of fresh produce at participating farmers markets; farmers accepting the vouchers must be approved by the Mississippi Department of Agriculture and the farmers” market at which they sell.
“(Participating in the program) gives seniors a way to get out of their home to do a little exercise and come look at the benefits of what is being raised in this country and this county,” said Melvin Ellis of Mayhew Tomato Farm, a local farmer accepting vouchers in the program. “It makes them think like in the old days and reminisce a lot about how they got their food in the old days, when they were farming. It”s a wonderful outlet for them.”
“I actually think it”s a great program for the seniors,” said Scott Enlow of Black Creek Farms, noting the vouchers should have been sent to farmers earlier, when the bounty was better.
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