By Jack Brammer
A state program that provides locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables at Kentucky farmers’ markets to low-income, nutritionally at-risk seniors has been delayed a month this year.
The Kentucky Department of Agriculture’s Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program usually begins June 1 and ends Oct. 31, but its start this year has been delayed to July 1, said Kirk Hilbrecht, spokesman for the department headed by Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles.
The state administers the program, which is funded by federal dollars.
Hilbrecht said the delay was due to the need to switch payments to attendees this year from paper vouchers to electronic cards with a QR code or an app on a smartphone.
He said the banking institution the department has used for the past few years no longer processes paper vouchers and the department had to find a new means of payment.
Even with the delay, Hilbrecht said, there’s “plenty of time to shop” for groceries at participating state-approved farmers’ markets because the program runs through Oct. 31.
The program reaches approximately 12,500 Kentucky residents and 103 farmers’ markets across the state.
Alexa Abner, manager of Covington Farmers Market, said she was getting phone calls “constantly daily” asking for information about the delay. She also manages the distribution of state payments to participants in Kenton County.
“People were ready to go on June 1 and wondered what was going on,” she said. “We tell them that the state had to switch from paper checks to electronic cards and the change took time.”
She said anyone with questions about the program and the market can call her at 859-888-0570.
Abner said attendees will still be able to get the majority of fresh fruits and vegetables available this year since the program runs until the end of October, but will miss out on early spring produce like sweet peas and radishes. .
She called the program a “success for everyone involved” and said the Covington market also participates in Kentucky Double Dollars, a program that offers financial incentives of up to $16 per person to market participants. senior farmers. It is a project of the Community Farm Alliance of Berea.
The Covington Farmers Market is open every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. in downtown Covington on 3rd Street between Greenup Street and Court Street. Parking is available in the Kenton County parking lot at 220 Madison Avenue.
Tyler Offerman, food justice officer for the Kentucky Equal Justice Center in Lexington, said he “heard from several program participants that the changes surprised them and that the communication about the delays was confusing.”
He said the program is beneficial to participants and farmers’ markets. The Kentucky Equal Justice Center was established in 1976 to work with the state’s civil legal services programs. It serves as a watchdog and advocate for low-income Kentuckians of all ages.
In the state’s Senior Farmer Nutrition Program, a participant receives $48 on the card or in the app.
To be a participant, a person must be 60 plus a day or older at the time of the broadcast and must meet certain income guidelines. They are listed on the ministry’s website at https://www.kyagr.com/consumer/senior-farmer-market.html.
Products that can be purchased at farmers’ markets are also specified on the website.
They include fruits, vegetables, honey and culinary herbs.
Foods that are not eligible include produce that is not local and not grown in Kentucky, such as citrus fruits, certain herbal medicines, meats, eggs, and cheese.
There are regular farmers markets in Newport, Boone County, Independence, Campbell County and Fort Thomas.