Vouchers help seniors, farmers

Checks issued by Md. help make produce more available

August 17, 2007|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,Sun reporter

Dorothy Bass picked out a half dozen ears of corn, tugging back the green husks to be certain the kernels were fresh and free of bugs.

With equal care, Bass, 91, selected cucumbers, peaches and nectarines, and then paid a vendor at the Pikesville Farmers' Market with cash -- and a check issued by the state.

Bass is one of hundreds of county seniors who is taking advantage of a program that helps people with limited incomes obtain fresh, local produce.

"We are supplying food to the nutritionally at-risk senior population and also promoting farmers -- everybody's happy," said Joan Schulz, who administers the farmers' market nutrition program for the Maryland Department of Agriculture.

To obtain the checks, which are available at county senior centers, one must show a Maryland driver's license or state-issued identification that proves that the person is older than 60.

The recipient must also demonstrate that he or she is part of one of nine programs that assist seniors with financial needs.

The program, which is paid for with federal and state funds, has helped Maryland's seniors obtain fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs since 2002, Schulz said. Other coupons are available to those who are part of the Women, Infants and Children program.

The Baltimore County Department of Aging was given 2,000 coupon booklets, each of which includes five $3 checks, to distribute to seniors this year.

Seniors who have already picked up one set of coupons are eligible to get a second one, said Jeanne Gourley, the nutrition program manager for the county's department of aging.

The checks can be used at any of the county's nine farmers' markets, including the newest ones in Randallstown and Woodlawn.

For seniors like Bass, the coupons make it easier to incorporate the summer's fresh produce into their diets.

"I like it because it's fresh," said Bass, who wore a crisp white blazer to the Pikesville farmers market. "The peaches, when I buy them in the store, are mealy, but here they're good."

On Tuesday, Bass volunteered at the coffee shop of the Pikesville Senior Center and then walked to the farmers' market, which is held in a nearby parking lot.

She left laden with three heavy bags of produce. As she sat on a bench waiting for a ride, she said that it was nearly impossible for her to get to a farm stand or a pick-your-own farm and, she added, "Bees don't like me, and I don't like bees."

The fresh fruits and vegetables help seniors get the vitamins, minerals and fiber they need, said Gourley, a registered dietitian.

Pikesville resident Sarah Perelman paid for a small watermelon and a bag of tomatoes with two checks and kept the other three to use on a future visit to the market.

The 83-year-old said that she walks twice a day and that eating healthy is important to her. Like many seniors at the market, Perelman is from Russia.

The markets were pretty good in Russia, Perelman said, adding with a laugh, "But they don't have coupons." julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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