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By John Schieszer
For Senior Voice 

Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program returns


June 1, 2020

Despite the current COVID-19 Pandemic, the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program will be offered this summer. On May 12, 2020, The Alaska Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) updated its website with the announcement that low-income seniors with coupons will be able to exchange them for fresh Alaska-grown fruits, vegetables, fresh-cut herbs and honey at farmers’ markets, and authorized farms and roadside stands. Each eligible older adult will receive six $5 coupons and they can be used from June 1 through October 31 of this year.

If you are eligible, you can apply and pick up coupons at your closest distribution agency. Some agencies offer services to homebound seniors, and some seniors may also have the ability to authorize a proxy to act on their behalf. All low-income seniors, who live in areas of Alaska where there are Farmers’ Markets and farm stands, are eligible.

“Fresh is always the best nutrition wise,” said Central Market owner Alex Davis, who runs his market it out of the Midtown Mall in Anchorage three days a week. He said the coupon program is important to a lot of older adults. Davis said during the pandemic many people can’t enjoy their favorite salads at restaurants. So, he now is selling the “Market Salad Bag” that includes fresh greens, carrots and cucumbers grown in Alaska. “Everyone is happy to get fresh,” said Davis. “If we didn’t have farmer’s markets, I would not be growing. It is all direct sales. I am not big enough to supply a grocery store.”

The Senior Farmers’ Market Program operates in areas with WIC authorized farmers’ markets, farm stands and/or farms. In 2019, these areas included Anchorage, Mat-Su Valley, Fairbanks, the Kenai Peninsula, Bethel and Southeast Alaska. Eligible foods are fresh, unprepared, Alaskan-grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and honey. Processed or prepared foods are not eligible. Cider and pre-cut carrots are examples of foods that are not eligible for the program. Alaskan products such as eggs, fish and meats are not eligible. When the coupons are issued, a list is provided of eligible Farmers’ Markets, farm stands and farms in your area. Your distribution agency can provide information on the nutritional value, methods of storage and recipes when you get your coupons.

Farmers’ Markets in Alaska making significant changes

Under the governor’s health mandates, Alaska Farmers Markets have been deemed “essential businesses,” similar to grocery stores and supermarkets. The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the Alaska Farmers Market Association have compiled information and recommendations from farmers markets, state associations, health departments and the Centers for Disease Control.

Currently, there is no evidence suggesting that food is a source or transmission route for the virus. However, many steps are being taken to ensure safety. If a vendor is sick or has been exposed to or suspects they have been exposed to COVID-19, they are not allowed to attend the market. This year, signs will be posted at both the market and vendor entrances as a reminder of this requirement.

It is uncertain how these new rules will affect vendors and how many are willing to meet all the new demands. So, will it mean a lot less to pick from? “It is hard to know how different it will be. I still have vendors deciding how they are going to do a business,” Davis told Senior Voice. “Everything is up in the air and I am waiting to see who is willing to crawl out of their hole and for each person it is different.”

Another change this year at Alaska Farmers Markets is that all ready-made food will be carry-out only. All prepared foods must be in enclosed containers and customers can take the food to eat off-site. Under the new rules, no sampling of products is allowed at the market. All market managers will be required to disinfect commonly used services, such as the market information table, EBT redemption devices, phones, and card swipers.

Currently, customers and vendors are being told to follow the CDC recommendation regarding the use of face coverings. The rules include that all customers practice “social distancing,” which means maintaining a space of about six feet from each other. The markets are required to inform customers of this policy as they enter the market. The Alaska DEC and the Alaska Farmers Market Association are encouraging that the first half-hour of the market (11 to 11:30 a.m.) be reserved for adults over the age of 60 and customers with medical conditions.

All the markets are being redesigned so that the space between vendors will be increased to allow proper social distancing between vendors, customers and market staff in order to reduce crowding. There will be no shared condiments. Instead, these will be provided at consumer requests in individual portion-sized containers. Vendors are being instructed to have one person handle money and another to handle product, and to set up temporary handwashing stations at their booths.

Due to safety concerns during the COVID-19 pandemic, Arctic Organics, which is a small scale family vegetable farm near Palmer, is only selling plants and produce online. It is possible to get pick-up orders at The Anchorage Farmers Market on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. through October 17 (15th & Cordova in Anchorage), and The Airport Heights Farmers Market at the Fire Island Rustic Bakery on Wednesdays from 3 to 6 p.m. from June 24 to September 30 (16th & Logan in Anchorage).

Author Bio

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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