New program takes seniors to farmers' market

Imagine you're a senior on a limited income and someone hands you a $15 voucher for the farmers' market. Sounds great, right? But maybe you need to navigate public transit to travel there, and you use a walker to get around, and those hills are going to be a real pain. Then you get to the market and you're wondering, "What the heck is kale? And these Jerusalem artichokes? How do I even cook these things?" Then you have to pack all those groceries home. It's enough to make you abandon the whole idea.
That's why the Seniors Services Society is launching a new program designed to get around all those barriers - to take seniors to the farmers market and put a little money in their pockets.
On July 3, the society is starting Seniors to the Market, which offers low-income people, 55 or older, door-to-door transportation to the Royal City Farmers Market, a $15 market voucher and an informational session en route.
"I think this program is an amazing opportunity for low-income seniors to not only get involved in their community, but to think more about cooking and enjoying fresh food," said Hayley Sinclair, the society's volunteer program coordinator. "I think the New Westminster community needs to see seniors out more at community events, and certainly our Royal City Farmers Market is a really popular community event."
The program is a collaboration between the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets, the Royal City Farmers Market and the non-profit Seniors Services Society. People can sign up for the Seniors to the Market program for a maximum of four weeks, and the market runs every Thursday in New Westminster's Tipperary Park.
The society picks people up at their door in a bus and offers an informative workshop while the seniors are in transit. One session, for example, covers the new language of food and includes information on terms like gluten-free, vegan and paleo, Sinclair explained.
Each senior gets a $15 voucher to spend at the market. They shop for about an hour, and there are volunteers to help pack groceries. Afterwards, the bus drops the shoppers off at their doorsteps.
"We're definitely getting people home before dinner so they can actually cook the food they pick up that day, so were getting people home by five," Sinclair said.
"Certainly the benefit is the shuttle services, actually getting people to the market," Sinclair added. "They can purchase fresh fruit, fresh vegetables, cheese and meat.That way they can spend some of their own money on things they want."
While the voucher is a bonus, anyone who's shopped at a local farmers' market knows that $15 can go by quickly, but Sinclair said the market lists in-season produce with low price points.
Melissa Maltais, operations manager for the Royal City Farmers Market, is excited about the program.
"I'm all about breaking down barriers to the farmers' market. If one way we can do that is get 16 individuals to the market without having to worry about carrying groceries home or having to worry about taking transit, that makes me very happy," she said. "It also helps people introduce more fruits and vegetables in their diets over the summer, and it benefits the farmers too, because all of the coupon money goes to the farmers."
The program runs until Oct. 9 but is limited by the number of seats on the bus, so 16 is the maximum capacity, and the program is already quite full.  
To sign up for Seniors to the Market, call the society at 604-520-6621.

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