Folks asking state officials to alter the rules for a government program that gives low-income seniors and poor women with children coupons to buy food at farmers’ markets say they’ve gotten half a loaf. The Ag Department will now allow the elderly to use those government-issued coupons to buy produce at all farmers’ markets, not just the larger ones. But the department will still bar women with infants and children to use the coupons to buy fruit and vegetables at small Iowa farmers’ markets. Lori Sokolowski of Cherokee helped set up a farmers’ market in her county. “I guess I’m kind of puzzled why they’ve made the changes for the seniors, but they aren’t allowing for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) recipients,” she says. Sokolowski has been chatting with farmers’ market managers in neighboring areas. She says farmers’ markets in nearby Ida County and the rural parts of Woodbury County had always allowed WIC recipients to use their government-issued coupons to buy produce, but they will no longer be able to do so. “I’m going down to their market Friday and we’ve going to discuss it, but I’m sure they’re going to want to make public comments,” Sokolowski says. The now-junked Ag Department rule prevented low-income seniors — and WIC recipients — from using the coupons to buy produce at a farmers’ market that did not have three or more vendors. Olive Jones, one of the vendors at the Bloomfield Farmers’ Market, has been lobbying legislators and state Ag Department officials to make changes to help the low income seniors in tiny towns. She isn’t wild about the rules change the Ag Department has made so seniors can use those coupons. “They made it kind of complicated,” she says. “One vendor can accept coupons at a farmers market and be considered a portable or movable farm stand.” She wonders why the Ag Department officials didn’t just say any farmers’ market vendor can accept the coupons, regardless of how many other vendors are selling in that place that day. Jones says half of her sales in 2003 were to low-income seniors buying her home-grown fruit and vegetables. But last summer, there were only two vendors at the Bloomfield Farmers’ Market and the Ag Department rules in force then prohibited Jones from accepting those coupons. WIC recipients who get coupons to buy produce at farmers’ markets will still have to go to a farmers’ market with three or more state-certified vendors in order to redeem those coupons. Last year, about one-third of Iowa farmers’ markets failed to meet that three-vendor threshhold.
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