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Susan Hutcherson

Susan Hutcherson of Hutcherson Family Farm Produce in Frankfort, a vendor at the Franklin County Farmers' Market, proudly displays a sign that she accepts Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program checks, or vouchers. (Photo by Chris Aldridge)

 

Program enables seniors to buy nutritious local foods at farmers' markets

 

By CHRIS ALDRIDGE, Kentucky Agricultural News

 

FRANKFORT, Ky. - Kentucky Farm Bureau’s latest Marketbasket Survey reported that grocery prices have increased nearly 2 percent so far this year. The U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts that food prices could rise as much as 3.5 percent before the year is over.


No one is feeling the pinch in the pocketbook more than Kentucky’s senior citizens.


To help Kentuckians age 60 and over, many of whom live on fixed incomes, the 2014 Farm Bill appropriated a $297,388 USDA grant this year for the Kentucky Department of Agriculture (KDA) to distribute through the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program.


Although the grant amount changes from year to year, Jessica Hinkle, who heads up the program for the KDA, said it’s never enough money.


“We have an increase in need, an increase in demand, but there’s not enough supply,” she said. “Senior citizens are retiring, and they can’t afford to live because food prices are up. One lady called me the other day and said, ‘I’m tired of eating spaghetti, but that’s all I can afford.’”


Just in time for National Farmers’ Market Week on Aug. 3-9, the KDA revealed that 10,911 Kentucky seniors in 69 counties each received vouchers totaling $28 – seven $4 vouchers – this summer to use at 106 farmers’ markets in the Commonwealth.


When using the vouchers, seniors must use the whole $4 – no change is given. The program also is helping the bottom lines of 700 Kentucky farmer vendors, who can cash the vouchers just like a check.


“According to [federal] regulations, we could go up to $50 [per senior] but, obviously, we don’t have the money to do that,” Hinkle said.


Statewide, 82 percent of the recipients of the vouchers are using them, according to Hinkle, who tracks the redemption rates of each county. When a county’s redemption rate exceeds 90 percent, she will give that county some of the vouchers from counties that aren’t using as many.


Bill Wickliffe, director of the KDA’s Division of Food Distribution, said Hinkle is doing “a remarkable job” heading up the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. The Division of Food Distribution administers USDA commodity programs in Kentucky.


The KDA issues the vouchers each June and can be used through October to purchase fresh, unprocessed, locally-grown fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey at any state-approved farmers’ market in Kentucky.


The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program became an official federal program in 2006.
“It’s extremely popular,” Hinkle said.

 

Franklin County Farmers' Market manager Lee Ann Jones agreed that the voucher program is popular with Frankfort senior citizens. "We have a good return on those," Jones said.


To be eligible to receive vouchers, participants must provide proof that they are at least 60 years old at the day of issuance and provide proof that their income is less than or equal to 130 percent of the poverty level.


Non-local, non-Kentucky-grown products are not eligible for purchase with FMNP coupons.
Products not grown in Kentucky, medicinal herbs, home-processed products, meats, eggs, cheese, and other foods are not eligible for purchase with the vouchers. For a complete list of eligible and ineligible products, go to http://www.kyagr.com/consumer/senior-farmer-market.html.