During Ohio’s 2020 growing season, more than 1,100 low-income seniors in COA’s five-county service area participated in the United States Department of Agriculture Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program for the first time. The program provides fresh, nutritious, unprepared locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and honey through farmers markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture (CSA) farmers.
Provider Services team member and Nutrition Business Relations Partner Jennifer Lake worked with a group of community members and farmers and the Ohio Department of Aging to secure a $180,000 grant from Ohio’s General Revenue fund to expand the program to the area.
“We were absolutely thrilled to be able to support two very important communities here in southwestern Ohio with the program – older adults who might not otherwise be able to access nutritious, fresh produce – and our farmers,” Lake said.
Butler County resident and activist Mike Eck, who was instrumental in working with the team that brought the program to southwestern Ohio, said, “The whole theory is that when it comes to local, farm-fresh food, everybody deserves some.”
In June, seniors who applied and qualified began to receive $50 worth of coupons to redeem through the end of October at participating farmers’ markets in Hamilton, Butler, Clermont, Clinton and Warren counties.
The older adults using the coupons were thrilled to have access to the produce. “I greatly, greatly appreciate you for sending [the coupons] to me. They are going to be well-used and it will help my health even better because of the vegetables and the fruit,” said Diana, from Hamilton County.
In addition to the traditional coupon program, Lake engaged three CSA farmers in a pilot program to deliver their produce directly to five low-income senior apartment buildings in Hamilton and Butler counties.
One of those farmers is Steve Willis, owner of Just Farmin’ in Butler County. Throughout the season, Willis and his associates delivered produce weekly to Belle Tower apartments in Hamilton. “It’s worked out really well. It financially helps the farm, but spiritually… it sure makes you feel better.”
Belle Tower residents in the program are feeling better too. Carol, who has diabetes, was able to keep her sugars down by eating two salads a day made up partially of her delivery from Just Farmin’. Another resident, Pam, incorporates the fruits and vegetables into a healthy diet to help with her high cholesterol and blood pressure.
And, for older adults with limited financial means, this access to fresh produce is priceless. Pam is grateful to have “fresh food, and less money out-of-pocket, because vegetables cost a lot.”
Lake plans to continue to build the program by serving even more seniors and bringing in more farmers markets in the future. “Despite the pandemic disrupting the operations of many area markets and keeping many older adults at home this year, I was very pleased that we established great relationships with local farmers and we were able to get so much fresh produce into the hands of those who really needed it. I’m looking forward to building on this great launch in coming growing seasons,” she said.
Click here for program details.