Cindy Rhinehart says Sauk County
senior citizens who visit her market with a handful of coupons often leave with more than an armful of fresh fruits and veggies.
"If their balance is less than what their coupons are worth, I'll encourage them to take a couple peppers or a tomato," said Rhinehart, co-owner of Country Bumpkin Farm Market in Wisconsin Dells.
Rhinehart's business is one of 13 locations in Sauk County where coupons distributed through the Senior Farmer's Market Nutrition Program can be redeemed. The program provides free locally grown produce to seniors who meet poverty guidelines.
Rhinehart said that seems to be a big help to those who participate, both nutritionally and financially.
"A lot of them are only on Social Security and that doesn't stretch very far," she said. "Plus, whenever you can eat things that are chemical free and are not radiated, it's always better of you."
Sauk County's Aging and Disability Resources Center was awarded 300 vouchers to distribute this year through the federally-funded program.
The $25 vouchers are available on a first-come- first-serve basis, and 116 of them have already been given out, said ADRC volunteer coordinator Mary Jane Percy. Five more sign-up dates are scheduled through June 30 at locations throughout Sauk County.
"Free food is always good," Percy said about the nutrition program, which she helps coordinate. "Plus, it encourages people to get out of their houses and go to the farm stands and see what's available. And it's just going to add to their overall health and well-being."
Sauk County residents over the age of 60 and Native Americans over 55 qualify for the program if their income is less than $20,036 per year for an individual, or $26,955 for a couple. Only one voucher is available per household.
Jean Pinkston said she serves fresh berries and vegetables to about 10 to 15 seniors a day through the voucher program at her family owned business, The Berry Farmer, located two miles west of Baraboo on Hoot Owl Valley Road.
She said seniors seem to appreciate having access to fresh produce.
"The fresher the better," Pinkston said. "They sometimes make jam out of the strawberries or freeze them for eating on cereal."