By George Greig
Special to the Tribune
Pennsylvania’s farmers markets and farm stands are bursting with fresh, local produce and shoppers looking for the perfect fruits and vegetables for their families. Yet, for far too many families, this nutritious produce is just out of reach.
About 10 percent of Pennsylvanians are at risk for hunger and are only an emergency, missed paycheck or unexpected bill away from not knowing where they’ll get their next meal. Fresh produce may not be a staple of their diets. In a state with a nearly year-round harvest, this reality is unthinkable.
Our farmers produce the food that feeds the world. The Farmers Market Nutrition Program is helping everyone enjoy their harvest.
This program provides four $5 vouchers to low-income older adults and participants in the Women, Infant and Children, or WIC, program. The $20 worth of vouchers can be redeemed for fruits and vegetables at participating farmers markets and farm stands from June through November.
Tight budgets prevent many people from eating healthy because of the misconception that fast, processed food is cheaper than fresh food. But you can buy a lot of produce for $20 — at least a dozen ears of sweet corn, a head of lettuce, a pint of raspberries, a half-dozen potatoes, a cantaloupe, several zucchini and a quart of green beans.
Thanks to the program, each year about 353,000 older adults and WIC participants enjoy nutritious produce that provides essential vitamins and minerals. Instead of processed food, they get fresh food that not only tastes better, but is healthier, too. Though some consumers may be intimidated by fresh produce, they can get information about preparation, taste and freshness directly from the people who grew it.
The program also helps farmers. The producers who participate in the program at more than 1,000 participating farmers markets and farm stands are reimbursed for the produce bought with vouchers. Plus, they’re getting the chance to build relationships with more customers, adding to customer loyalty and repeat business.
Pennsylvania is one of only a few states that provides state funding in addition to federal grants for the $7 million program. As a result, more consumers and farmers can benefit.
To sign up as a participating producer, contact the department’s Bureau of Food Distribution at (717) 772-2693.
If you think you might be eligible to receive vouchers, contact your local Area Agency on Aging or WIC agency for additional information, including locations, dates and times of voucher distributions. Vouchers are offered on a first-come, first-served basis.
More information: Visit agriculture.state.pa.us and search “farmers market.”
Greig, a Linesville resident, is the Pennsylvania Agriculture Secretary.