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What’s Good for the Farmer is Good for Seniors

July 23rd, 2011 - By Therese Madden

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It’s a win-win! The Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture’s Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program offers low income seniors $20 in vouchers redeemable only at farmers markets for Pennsylvania produce. Fresh produce for seniors; more customers for farmers.


Photo By PA Dept. Of Agriculture

In recent years, there’s been an increase in the number of farmer’s markets in Philadelphia, many of the new markets are in low income neighborhoods, where options for fresh produce are limited. A few incentive programs encourage neighbors to shop at the markets. One example is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, it targets older adults on a fixed income, and according to 79-year-old, Rosetta Thomas, it’s working. “The vegetables help, I could be a rabbit by now cause I eat so much lettuce and tomatoes and celery, I love it. I didn’t eat it before.”

PA Produce

Individuals over the age of 60 with an income of less than $20,147 a year are eligible for $20 worth of vouchers that can be used to buy fruits and vegetables at Farmer’s Markets and farm stands. Each eligible senior gets four, $5 vouchers. $20 may not seem like that much, but according to Alicia Columbo of Philadelphia Corporation for Aging, it is. “To a senior on a fixed income with Medicare expenses and prescription and everything, utilities. $20 can make a diff between them eating healthy and eating a cheese sandwich, it really does make a difference.” 70-year-old Alfred Terry, and his wife have just picked up their vouchers at the Corporation for Aging. “I think it’s wonderful you know seniors need assistance and I think there should be more emphasis on seniors these days, especially in Washington.”

In Philadelphia, 36,250 seniors get vouchers each year. Rosetta Thomas says twenty extra dollars in fruits and vegetables makes a difference, especially because she’s recently changed the way she eats and has lost 35 pounds. “I changed my eating habits cause I used to be greedy – but changing- I love potato chips but I may eat them once a week- I used to get 4 or 5 bags of them and on the weekend I used to party with them.”

And although potato chips may be made with a vegetable, you can’t use the vouchers to buy them. Other foods that can’t be purchased with the vouchers are processed foods like jams, baked goods and cider. Also fruit and vegetables that don’t grow in Pennsylvania like oranges and avocados are not eligible.

At a farm stand in West Philadelphia, Shirley Roberts is using the her vouchers for the first time. She says it’s been a while since she’s even bought a vegetable. “I’m not a vegetable eater but since this came along I probably will be more of a vegetable eater cause I don’t care for vegetables cause when you buy them they not fresh.

She goes on to explain that in the supermarket near her house the vegetables are pretty consistently in bad condition, to the point that she simply stopped buying them. “You spend your money and buy stuff, it ain’t fresh, so it kind of got me out of practice of buying stuff , I don’t want to spend my money, you open up the apple an it’s sour.” Amish Farmer John King assures her, his vegetables are fresh. “Well if it ain’t fresh I’ll let you know”, “I wanna know, you bet.”

As for the farmers? According to King, the vouchers definitely help business. “It brings more people, they can only use them at the farmers market and they like what they get here, so I like to accommodate them.”

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Photo by Flicker user Chiot's Run / CC BY-NC 2.0

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Get Healthy Philly is part of the Communities Putting Prevention to Work Initiative, a federal effort to: prevent and delay chronic disease, reduce risk factors, promote wellness in children and adults, and provide positive sustainable health change in our communities.

Food Fit Philly is part of Get Healthy Philly, a program that works to reduce and prevent obesity and related chronic diseases (like heart disease and diabetes) by increasing access to healthy foods that people can afford.

Your body needs help when it's time to quit. SmokeFree Philly is a program of the Philadelphia Department of Public Health that offers support and tools to help smokers quit. The goal of SmokeFree Philly is to: help people to quit smoking, stop people from starting to use tobacco, and reduce heart disease, cancer and other illnesses caused by smoking.

Philly Food Bucks!
Philly Food Bucks are coupons that help ACCESS/food stamp customers save money on fruits and vegetables. Philly Food Bucks can be redeemed for $2 worth of fruits and vegetables for every $5 spent in ACCESS/food stamps at a participating farmers' market. Learn more about Philly Food Bucks at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health's recently expanded web site Food Fit Now also accepted at the West Oak Lane Weaver's Way Food Coop.