To date, the Johnston Senior Center has passed out more than 500 coupon books for Rhode Island’s highly popular Farmer’s Market Program.
But that total will increase tomorrow – between 12 noon and 2 p.m. – which is the next date that the Farmer’s Market Coupon Books will be available.
“We give people a book worth a total of $15,” said Millie Santilli, the assistant director of the award-winning Johnston Senior Center. “There are three separate coupons worth $5 each. People can use them at any farmer’s market across the state.”
Recipients must be 60 years old or over and must have a certain income level. Also, people who want to obtain the Farmer’s Market coupon book at the Johnston Senior Center must see Santilli.
“All coupon books are available on a first-come, first served basis,” Santilli said. “So far we’ve passed out dozens upon dozens of coupon books. We did so on different days ... we had sessions on Tuesdays and Fridays; it’s a very special program.”
The Farmer’s Market is a USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) program that began six years ago and is administered locally by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management’s Division of Agriculture and Resource Marketing.
“The program allows us an opportunity to give people $15 to spend at a farmer’s market or roadside stand anywhere in the state,” said Peter Susi, department chief of the DEM’s Division of Agriculture. “There are some requirements, but basically a person must be at least 60 years old or over.”
When asked what sort of items people can purchase with the coupon booklet at various farmer’s markets or roadside stands, Susi said, “Fresh fruits and vegetables that are locally grown. People can also purchase honey, which was recently added to the list.”
In Rhode Island, the now-popular Farmer’s Market program is in partnership with the Department of Elderly Affairs.
“The Elderly Affairs people work with meal sites and senior centers to distribute the coupon books,” Susi said. “All our distribution goes through those two sites; and again, all the items are locally grown.”
Susi also explained that the USDA launched the Farmer’s Market program half-dozen years ago to help the nation’s farmers.
“The program has been very beneficial for the farmers as well as our senior citizens,” said Susi. “This program generates over $250,000 for farmers here in Rhode Island. It is also beneficial to our seniors, who get nutrition from locally grown food.”
Santilli said while there are a host of farmer’s markets across the state, there’s one on Mondays inside Johnston War Memorial Park from 2 to 6 p.m. There’s also a farmer’s market in Providence at Neutaconkanut Hill Mondays from 3 to 6 p.m. Susi said there’s another location at Visitor’s Center, or Blackstone Visitor’s Center, located in Lincoln off Route 295 North and the market is open Tuesdays from 2 to 6 p.m.
People who’d like to obtain a complete listing of farmer’s markets located in Rhode Island should call RI DEM/Division of Agriculture at 222-2781.
There’s also another USDA program senior citizens can use. It’s called SNAP and provides seniors at least $16 a month to purchase food all year. To find out if you may be eligible for SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program), call the URI SNAP Outreach Project at 1-866-306-0270.
In Johnston, people who have questions about the Farmer’s Market program should call Santilli at the Johnston Senior Center at 944-3343.