Financial aid is available to low-income seniors, women, infants and children wanting fresh food from farmers markets.
The Missouri Department of Agriculture announced Monday it was launching two seasonal programs to distribute federal money to low-income residents in Mid-Missouri, Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield.
The Missouri Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program and WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program provide recipients with $20-$50 to purchase eligible food from an authorized producer at a farmers market or roadside stand. Both programs are federally funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service.
The Missouri Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program is aimed at low-income residents 60 years of age and older. Applicants must provide age, income and residency verification to the Aging Best Agency on Aging in Columbia, or corresponding centers in Kansas City, St. Louis and Springfield, to receive up to $50 in benefits.
The Missouri WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program offers $20 in benefits to eligible applicants. Benefits can be accessed through 35 WIC agencies located in the four selected parts of the state.
Those approved for benefits under the two programs receive them between June 1 and Sept. 30, or until funds run out, and must redeem them with producers by Oct. 31. The funds, which are transferred via a mobile app this year, can be spent on fresh fruit, vegetables, honey and herbs.
"The Farmers Market Nutrition Programs have proven beneficial for everyone involved," Chris Chinn, director of the Missouri Department of Agriculture, said in a news release. "Our farmers raise delicious, quality products and are able to assist their bottom line by participating in these programs that are also important for recipients and the local economy."
The state has trained and authorized nearly 200 farmers to accept benefits. Their booths are usually marked with a sign identifying that they participate in the Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
The program is limited to 47 counties in Missouri, which were identified by the Missouri Department of Agriculture and Missouri Department of Social Services as regions with the highest number of eligible residents.
Osage County farmer Ben Paulsmeyer is an authorized producer that accepts the benefits when selling sweet corn, watermelon, cantaloupe and other produce from his garden and farm.
Paulsmeyer, who travels to several area farmers markets, said the number of producers accepting benefits depends on the market.
"Last year, they had more," he said, adding he knows some farmers who didn't renew their participation because of the transition to the app. "Last year, there were several at the Jefferson City (farmers market) but I also saw it at the Columbia one. I think it's pretty common to accept those."
Paulsmeyer said he signed up for the program and took an online course for it a year or two ago. Last year, he received the benefits from customers in the form of a voucher-like check he could then deposit in the bank.
This year, the benefits will be transferred electronically and directly deposited into his account through a mobile app. Paulsmeyer said he hasn't started exploring the app yet because he's a few weeks away from starting to sell.
"They're both great programs and we encourage everybody to come try some good, local produce," he said. "The most important question is, 'When was it picked?'"