The sweet, salty smell of kettle corn is wafting through the air.
The sun is shining.
As buyers pass, buckets of plants and fresh flowers, and tables loaded with cantaloupe, watermelons, tomatoes, zucchini, and strawberries are just some of the selections for the picking.
Brenda Slaughter of Toledo is just finishing up her shopping at the Toledo Farmers' Market at the Elder-Beerman parking lot on Secor Road, having selected tomatoes, cucumbers, apples, eggplant, cherries, and a watermelon.
Ms. Slaughter, 64, on Wednesday afternoon is exchanging coupons from the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program, a popular program for low-income seniors through which they can receive fresh, locally grown produce for free from farmers' markets.
Ms. Slaughter said she tries to eat a healthful diet, and the coupons help.
"You can get anything you want out here," she said, gesturing to the variety around her. She said she also enjoys the flexibility of the program - she gets $50 worth of coupons to spend over several months on whatever kind of produce she prefers.
The program, in its eighth year, is run through the Area Office on Aging of Northwest Ohio Inc. It has been wildly popular with seniors, with about 1,400 people on a waiting list to get coupons, said Rebecca Liebes, the agency's director of nutrition who administers the program.
Martha Tello-Maritsas said she has participated in the program for four or five years and enjoys shopping at the farmers' market. She, her husband, and grandson were buying watermelon, corn, and tomatoes on Wednesday.
"There are a lot of seniors that don't know about it," she said. "Any seniors that I come across, I tell them about it."
Dan Madigan, executive director of the Farmers' Market Association of Toledo, said, "More and more people are asking for it nowadays as they're trying to stretch their dollars."
Funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the program began in 2001 and was designed to aid low-income seniors so they could improve their diets by helping them afford more fresh fruits and vegetables.
It's also good for farmers, said Glen Carpenter, owner of Goodfellow Farms in Ida, Mich., who was selling produce such as corn and zucchini.
Mr. Carpenter said he often tells his senior shoppers how and where the produce is grown. His wife even has been known to give cooking tips.
One man who bought rhubarb from Mr. Carpenter's stand brought him back a gift of rhubarb jelly.
Deb Ortiz-Flores, executive director of Lucas County Job and Family Services, said low-income senior citizens are one of the hardest demographics to reach.
For instance, only about 38 percent of the seniors who are eligible for food stamps in Lucas County receive them, far lower than the rate for other age groups.
"Historically, they're not as willing to come in to accept assistance," she said.
Northwest Ohio counties receive a large chunk of the money spent on the program nationally - about $1.1 million out of $20 million this year - because the idea was born here, said U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, (D., Toledo), who was involved in creating the program when she served on the agriculture appropriations panel.
The idea is to strengthen local farming, while getting nutritious food to low-income urban consumers, Miss Kaptur said.
"They get more for their money," she said. "They get more local food. It makes those dollars circulate in our community. It's win-win."
Miss Kaptur said her ultimate goal is to link local consumers and farmers even further, so that institutions such as schools, universities, hospitals, and others can buy from local farmers.
The program is open to Ohio residents ages 60 and older, who make up to 185 percent of the poverty level, which is $19,240 or less for a single person, or $25,900 for a household of two.
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