Over the past 15 years, the Project FRESH (Farm Resources Expanding and Supporting Health) Program has provided food coupons to families who participate in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program to spend at local farm markets for fresh, locally grown produce. This program gives families increased access to garden-fresh produce and the benefit of healthy food choices. It is also a great economic boost to farmer entrepreneurs who sell their fruits and vegetables at local farm markets.
In 2006, the State of Michigan Project FRESH program expanded to include senior citizens who live in low-income situations. That was exciting news for everyone who works with seniors who struggle financially.
To help get the Senior Project FRESH (SPF) program started in 2006 in Cheboygan County, the program partnered with five local businesses that donated $100 each. In addition, the state of Michigan matched 50 cents for every dollar raised in support of SPF. That initial $500 grew into $750, which provided 38 books at $20 each the first year.
Fast forward to 2010, where the program has grown from providing 38 SPF coupon books in 2006 to providing 589 books, with the help of $5,000 from the Cheboygan County Senior Citizen’s Millage fund, the state match, rollover funds from the state and a state grant from the State Office of Services to the Aging. Because of its success, the program already has been approved for 2011 with a $6,000 allocation from the county commissioners.
The program began in 2006 with 15 farmers and three farms enrolled with Project FRESH. In 2010, 33 farmers and seven farm markets were on board.
Patti Spinella, Michigan State University Extension Cheboygan County Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP-Ed) instructor, says that the best part of the Senior Project FRESH Program is meeting seniors around town; they can’t wait to tell her what they purchased and what they did with their produce. They are very grateful for this program and look forward to the next growing season.
Patti remarks, “Mrs. K said that she was able to try the green squash that tastes like pumpkin, and the Hubbard squash was delicious from Bill’s Farm Market. Mary Helen loves the coupons and was able to try banana peppers for the first time ever. Lucy always saves some of her Project FRESH coupons to spend at the Golden River Orchard for Honey Crisp apples. Mrs. G. from Wolverine makes sure her neighbors receive coupons and fresh produce because she is looking out for them.”
Patti finds it very humbling to assist the seniors in the community. She believes that word has traveled fast about Senior Project FRESH throughout the senior community.
Says Patti, “It is a noteworthy tribute to our caring community to have a steady source of income earmarked to continue this great program.”
This is a great example of the importance of working with community partners to serve our citizens. Through Senior Project FRESH, MSUE works together with county government, fellow agencies and producers creating a successful nutritional opportunity for seniors using local vegetables that also helps the local economy. What started four years ago with a small number of businesses and farms has grown and will continue to grow into a great opportunity to reach people we would otherwise not likely reach.