Farmers Market begins mailout of vouchers

Published 9:05 pm Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The 2011 Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program books (vouchers) are being issued through mail rather than at on-site distribution centers.

“All of those who got vouchers in 2010 have been mailed letters of certification of eligibility, said Don Wambles, Farmers Market Authority director. “Those letters of eligibility are to be mailed back to us and, when we get those keyed in, the vouchers will be mailed to the seniors.”

Wambles said the mail-out distribution will eliminate standing in long lines or disappointments when a center is out of books.

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Senior adults who did not receive books from the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program in 2010 but are eligible for the program will be put on a waiting list. Wambles said a system will soon be in place to handle those requests.

“The funds for the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program are limited so we can only serve so many people,” Wambles said. “Alabama has the third largest program in the United States and we can only serve 23 percent of seniors who are eligible. There’s just not enough money appropriated for this program and that’s its downside.”

Slightly more than 59,000 books (vouchers) are issued in Alabama each year and are redeemed at about 89 percent annually.

Eligibility is based on age and income. Wambles said those who fill out eligibility forms do so on the honor system.

The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program was initiated in 2001 for the purpose of providing fresh fruits and vegetables to senior adults and to increase the sale of farmers at Farmers Markets.

“In 1999, we had 17 Farmers Markets in Alabama with 234 farmers selling,” Wambles said. “Last year, we had 133 Farmers Markets with 1,134 farmers selling. I attribute that increase to the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. It’s a wonderful program that benefits our senior citizens and our farmers.”

Thirty-nine states participate in nationwide the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program, which is operated nationwide at a cost of $20.556 million and at 1.8 million in Alabama.