AUGUSTA – Maine’s Senior FarmShare program is gearing up for another season. Eligible seniors will once again be able to get free fruit, vegetables and herbs from local Maine farmers.
Last year, more than 19,000 seniors and 130 farmers took part in the program, which provides $50 worth of produce to each participant. Qualifying seniors contract directly with local farmers for pickup or delivery.
The program is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and administered in Maine by the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry (DACF). Last year, Maine received just over $1 million to operate the program. The allocation for this year has not been finalized, but USDA anticipates receiving about $20 million to run the program nationwide, the same as in 2012.
“Our local farmers are the bread and butter of Maine’s agricultural community,” said Governor Paul R. LePage. “This funding will be used to leverage support to promote and support our farmers while helping our most vulnerable citizens.”
Application letters are now going out to farmers who took part in the program in the past. “We’re hoping for another strong participation level, so we can serve people all over the state,” said Julie Waller, the FarmShare program manager at DACF. “The people in the program, especially folks on fixed incomes, really appreciate the wholesome food the farmers provide.”
A survey of last summer’s participants turned up dozens of glowing reviews about the quality of both the food and the service. “The produce sure helps me get by,” wrote one senior.” I have only 42 percent of my heart, so picking berries is out of the question, but I can go to the farmer and get them.” Another wrote, “The farm stand where I shopped was very neat and clean. The people were friendly and helpful. I look forward to the next growing season. There is nothing more delicious than a red-ripe tomato from a local farm.”
To qualify for a Senior FarmShare, a participant must be a Maine resident, at least 60 years old and with a household income of not more than 185 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines. Last year’s thresholds were $20,665 for singles and $27,991 for a two-person household.
DACF Commissioner Walt Whitcomb said the program has proven to be an asset for farmers and seniors. “Under our innovative approach, farmers receive the $50 per customer in the spring so the program provides them with working capital for the summer growing season,” he said. “And it helps ensure that Maine seniors have access to healthy, nourishing food.”
Participating farmers offer a variety of methods for providing produce. Seniors pick it up at a specific farmers’ market, or at the farm or farm stand. Some farmers offer home delivery. Eligible produce includes fresh, unprocessed fruit, vegetables and herbs.
Seniors may contract the Area Agency on Aging at 877-353-3771 to find participating farmers once the list is complete, probably by mid-March. The list also will be available at www.getrealmaine.com.