Farmers’ markets and older Ohioans — growing
By Barbara Riley
GREATER AKRON — Summer in Ohio comes with many time-honored traditions and staples, from county fairs and local festivals to our great amusement parks and other destinations. Another summer attraction that is building in popularity comes from our state’s rich agricultural base.
I’m talking about farmers’ markets. These come in many different shapes and sizes — Ohio has about 600 farm markets, roadside markets, farmers’ markets and pick-your-own produce vendors. In today’s society of speed and convenience, where “super centers” are the norm, it would seem that farmers’ markets would be a tough sale. Instead, markets are growing almost faster than the produce you can buy there.
Ohio is home to a broad array of locally grown produce, including apples, many types of berries, beans, sweet corn, tomatoes and much more. At a market, you can buy some of these foods just hours, even minutes, after they were picked. At some markets, you might even find dairy products, farm-raised meat, honey, freshly baked goods, potted plants, herbs and more.
Good nutrition, including a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, can help prevent many chronic diseases, lessen their effects and improve an individual’s overall quality of life. Unfortunately, many older people ignore the importance of proper nutrition at a time in their lives when it is particularly crucial. Some of the reasons for this include isolation, limited mobility and access to transportation, physical changes that make it more difficult or less fulfilling to eat right, limited finances and others.
For these individuals, farmers’ markets may be a great alternative to the supermarket. When you buy directly from the grower, you get the freshest produce possible, plus you have an opportunity to learn about the product and get advice for storing and preparing it. Markets also provide an excellent opportunity for socialization and exercise, especially the pick-your-own types of markets.
Wide open outdoor markets — often hosted in parks, fairgrounds and parking lots — can sometimes be easier to navigate than supermarket aisles for people with physical limitations. They also are less flashy and tend to have fewer ads, displays and music that may distract people with sensory issues. In addition, many senior and community centers and local transportation authorities offer free or low-cost transportation to and from farmers’ markets.
Most of the farmers who sell produce at markets are small farm operators who work and manage their own operations and return much of the money they earn into the local economy. Plus, many merchants are themselves seniors.
To learn more about the many different types of farmers’ markets in Ohio, call (800) IM-PROUD or visit www.ohio proud.org. [To find out what farmers markets are located in the Greater Akron area, see the May 31 issue of the West Side Leader or visit the archives at www.akron.com.]
To help more seniors enjoy the benefits of locally grown fresh fruits and vegetables, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Ohio Department of Aging and Area Agencies on Aging in Akron, Cleveland, Columbus, Marietta and Toledo sponsor the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Currently, 24 counties in these regions offer income-eligible residents age 60 or older free coupons they can redeem for qualifying products at authorized farmers’ markets and roadside stands. For more details, visit www.goldenbuckeye.com/families/sfmnp.html or call Leigh Sliwinski at the Akron Area Agency on Aging in Green at (330) 896-9172.
Barbara Riley is director of the Ohio Department of Aging.