(St.Joseph,MO)Missouri seniors often have difficulty getting access to fresh fruits and vegetables in their area, but a new program established by the state could soon make things a little easier.
Before resigning, former Governor Eric Greitens signed House Bill 1625, establishing the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, a statewide initiative that helps seniors gain access to locally grown produce.
The legislation requires the Missouri Department of Agriculture (MDA) to provide low-income seniors with vouchers that could be exchanged for food at local farmers markets.
WIC Coordinator and Nutritionist for the St. Joseph Health Department Lisa Horn said cost plays a big factor in what type of produce seniors can typically afford.
"Sometimes with the senior population funds are limited. Fresh fruits and vegetables are often times are one of those things that are maybe put on a want list,because there are other alternatives frozen, canned, which are less expensive,"Horn said.
Lawmakers estimates 330,000 Missouri seniors would qualify to receive benefits from the program, which is available for couples over 60 who make less than $20,826 annually.
Debbie Lehmer, also known as The Enchilada Lady frequently does business at the farmers market in the parking lot of the East Hills Shopping Center.
“I think this program could really help get more people out here to buy, and to give them access to vegetables,” Lehmer said.
With vouchers to help them purchase fresh produce from local farmers markets and fruit stands, seniors could be saving money and giving local vendors a boost.
“Typically because you are dealing with local produce, the cost is going to be less. There is no middle man there, it’s just the farmer growing the vegetables and bringing them to a stand, so usually the cost is much more effective than buying it in a grocery store,” Horn said.
Farmers markets are typically seasonal businesses, but there are still ways seniors can make the produce last long after the markets close.
"While the market is here, while you can buy the fresh fruits and vegetables in season, you can take them home, chop them up, can them so you can enjoy them year-round,"Lehmer said.