POSEN - Presque Isle County senior citizens with qualifying incomes are taking advantage of a federally funded program giving them coupons for fresh, Michigan-grown produce.
The program - the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program - is targeted at adults 60 and older with low incomes. It's more commonly known as Senior Project FRESH, and provides clients with booklets of $2 coupons redeemable at markets registered with the program.
To qualify, seniors' incomes must be 185 percent of the federal poverty level or less, equating to about $20,000 for one person and $27,000 for a two-person household, Sherri King of the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging said. They can sign up at a county's lead agency and use the coupons to buy unprocessed fruits, vegetables and greens, as well as honey. Farmers then exchange the coupons with the lead agency for cash.
The program, funded by the United States Department of Agriculture, started out with two goals in mind, King said.
"The USDA wanted to help older adults with some food security, stretching their dollars a little more and giving them healthier options," she said.
To achieve this, the program includes an education component, King said. Seniors who apply for the program take classes teaching healthier cooking methods, like using herbs instead of salt.
The program's second goal is to benefit local farmers, King said.
"The USDA realized it was a win-win for the farmers, too," she said. "So Michigan farmers over the last few years have been getting in excess of half-a-million (dollars) in their pockets that they weren't getting before the program."
Coupons also go to low-income women at risk for breast or cervical cancer through the Michigan Department of Health's WISEWOMAN Program, King said.
Counties receive an initial 100 coupon booklets from the state, and buy additional ones with whatever funds they can raise. In Presque Isle County, four businesses and organizations gave enough for the Presque Isle County Commission on Aging to purchase $4,000 worth of coupons, Katie Kuznicki, commission executive director, said. They had help from the county's board of commissioners, and a 50 percent match from the state.
"We have distributed coupons to 109 households" so far, Kuznicki said.
Helping seniors get more fresh produce in their diet goes along with PICCA's mission, Kuznicki said.
"PICCA is able to provide healthy meals, but Project FRESH is able to go one step beyond that," she said. "They're able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables, which folks are often missing in their diet."
Coupons are accepted at three farmers markets: those in Onaway, Rogers City and Alpena, as well as many family farms, Kuznicki said.
For more information about the program, call PICCA at 766-8191 in Posen or 733-2559 in Onaway.
Grace Marshall, Alpena Area Senior Citizens Council executive director, said Alpena County has received 223 booklets this year. This year, the council is trying to get one booklet in every qualifying household.
To that end, Alpena County seniors can sign up for the remaining booklets on July 2 at the Alpena Senior Center, Marshall said. To sign up, call ahead at 356-3585. Proof of income is required.
Seniors in Montmorency County can call the county's Council on Aging at 785-2580 to sign up for the remaining coupon booklets, Tabitha VanSickle, the council's in-home coordinator, said.
Jordan Travis can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5688.