This summer, more seniors are able to get their daily five, thanks to a coordinated effort to increase access to fresh fruits and vegetables for those on a limited income.
Since 2009, Wholesome Wave has matched produce purchases, dollar for dollar, for those using SNAP benefits at participating community markets.
In 2016, more than $440,000 was spent at markets through this program, said Caitlin Still, development and communications coordinator for Wholesome Wave Georgia.
In addition, the organization matches the value of one-time financial vouchers given to low-income seniors through the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program to purchase produce, and also sponsors a program where innovative health care prescriptions are exchanged for fruits and vegetables.
The goal is to get participants to eat healthier by making fresh produce more affordable. “We know that people who live on a limited food budget benefit from these programs,” Still said.
Here’s how Georgia Fresh for Less works:
At participating farmers markets and direct marketing farms, those with food assistance benefits can swipe their EBT card in exchange for tokens. The tokens are worth twice as much as the amount of money debited on their card. They take the tokens and shop at the various food stands at the market, using the tokens as cash for their purchases.
Vendors later redeem the tokens for cash from the market manager, and the market is reimbursed by Wholesome Wave. Participating markets have a small buy-in and are required to pay a percentage of the total proceeds.
The success of the program is that the vast majority of those who participate said they eat more produce, they visit farmers markets more often and have tried something new, according to surveys taken by the organization.
In Cobb County, the Mableton Farmers Market has been participating in the produce incentive program for four years. The market operates Thursdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Mable House Complex, 5239 Floyd Road, Mableton. It was established eight years ago specifically to accommodate older adults and give them a place to purchase fresh, healthy foods on an off day when traffic and crowds are more manageable.
Along with regular food vendors, representatives from Cobb & Douglas Public Health give out food samples, recipes, and distribute other nutrition information.
Market manager Dave McDaniel, a volunteer with the Mableton Improvement Coalition, said even on a Thursday morning, there’s always a bustling, diverse crowd, with lots of families and senior adults. Those using their SNAP/EBT benefits can spend up to $50, then double that and get $100 worth of produce.
“It’s a win-win for both the buyers and the farmers. Vendors sell more and the customers get more fresh food,” McDaniel said.
With the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), older adults receive a one-time gift of coupons that can be exchanged for fruits, vegetables, herbs and other eligible foods at farmers markets and community-supported agriculture programs. Georgia seniors redeemed more than $15,000 Senior FMNP vouchers at their local farmers markets last year, Still said.
Another Wholesome Wave program partners with health care providers to increase access to fruits and vegetables for all ages.
Through the Fruit and Vegetable Prescription Program, participating health care providers can write prescriptions for their patients to exchange for produce at local farmers markets. The idea is to encourage healthy eating as a way to prevent and treat chronic, diet-related diseases.
The program started last year and is available through a limited number of clinics in Atlanta, Athens and Augusta. In its initial year, it helped to increase the number of times participants shopped at farmers markets or in the grocery produce aisle. It also increased awareness of the importance of eating more fruits and vegetables and how to prepare these foods.