Low income seniors and poor women with children are griping about the way the Iowa Department of Agriculture handles the program that gives them coupons to buy produce at farmers’ markets. The department insists that a farmers’ market have at least three certified vendors or the coupons cannot be used. Betty Fountain of Bloomfield says because of the rule, she can’t use her coupons to buy her apples and green beans at the Bloomfield Farmer’s Market. “So I went to Ottumwa on the bus and by the time I take all that time out and then had to pay the bus, it was kind of a losing proposition,” Fountain says. She says the rule isn’t fair. “I think we should all be treated alike, whether you live in a small town or a big one,” Fountain says. Olive Jones is one of the vendors at the Bloomfield Farmer’s Market, and she says the rule’s ridiculous.”It really made a hardship in our county last year,” Jones says. “Senior citizens really depend on those coupons.” Lori Sokolowski of Cherokee has been trying to get a Cherokee County Farmers Market off the ground last year, but couldn’t line up three certified vendors. This year, she’s got four but still couldn’t get the Ag Department to put the Cherokee County Farmers Market on the list of 167 farmers markets where government coupons can be used. “We…have been getting — I don’t want to say the run-around — but we think that the process could be speeded up,” she says. The state sends out 62-thousand coupon books to poor seniors and low income women with children who qualify for Women, Infants and Children, or WIC benefits so they can buy produce from farmers markets. Carrie Peterson of Des Moines feels sorry for women in small towns who can’t use the coupons in their local farmers markets. “It’s just a lot fresher if you go to the farmers market and especially better for children,” she says. “There’s not as many, like, pesticides and stuff used, you know, to preserve it.” Over two-dozen farmers markets in Iowa do not have at least three licensed vendors and therefore the elderly and poor women who get the government coupons can’t buy produce at those markets. State legislators are being asked to intervene and force the Ag Department to change its rules.
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