HUNTINGTON — A popular program that provides fresh, locally grown food to West Virginia seniors is returning in August.
The West Virginia Department of Agriculture (WVDA) this week announced the return of the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program. The program was delayed earlier this year due to a lack of a banking contract. With the contract now in place, vouchers will be delivered to participating partners and be available to senior citizens starting Aug. 1. The WVDA is working to avoid this issue for the 2022 season, according to a release.
“What we saw in West Virginia is not unique to our state,” Commissioner of Agriculture Kent Leonhardt said in the release. “Many other programs around the country are struggling to find banking partners to handle redemption of the vouchers. The USDA is aware of the issue and is working through how to adjust the federal program so states can continue serving our senior citizens.”
Senior Farmers Market Nutrition vouchers will be distributed to all 55 counties in West Virginia by the WVDA through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s program. Vouchers can be exchanged for fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs from participating farmers markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture programs. Eligible seniors who are over the age of 60 and meet certain financial requirements can sign up through their local senior centers.
Charles Holley, executive director of the Cabell County Community Services Center, said the voucher program is popular with the seniors they serve.
Last year, the line was two blocks long at just one of four distribution sites.
“Especially here in West Virginia and Cabell County, we’ve been known for years as one of the most unhealthy, obese areas in the nation,” Holley said. “A whole lot of that is attributed to poor eating habits. Any opportunity to have locally grown, fresh produce as a substitute for some of the things we’ve been eating that is causing health problems is a benefit to our seniors. It’s an incredibly popular program. A lot of the things people purchase is junk food because it’s cheap. Fresh produce can be cost prohibitive. Having that extra $30 can mean a whole lot.”
The number of vouchers CCCSO received in 2020 went down from 1,600 in 2019 to just 600. Holley said he hopes COVID-19 funding will allow for the number to go back up.
“People have been knocking on our doors since the winter wanting vouchers,” he said.
In 2020, the WVDA and its partners distributed a total of 16,800 vouchers to seniors in West Virginia. A total of 349 farmers, 101 farm stands and one farmers market participated in the program by accepting the vouchers. In Cabell County, the vouchers are accepted at The Wild Ramp in Old Central City in Huntington and the Barboursville Farmers Market.