According to the United States census, almost 15 percent of Utah senior citizens are facing hunger. With seniors making up 10 percent of Salt Lake County’s population, one program is providing fresh produce to fight hunger with over 3,800 pounds of fresh produce were distributed in 2017. All that fresh produce was enough to feed over 1,500 senior citizens.
Katie Wagner is part of the horticulture faculty at Utah State University Extension and helps run the farmer’s market program. She said working together with multiple organizations like Adult and Aging Services and Wheeler Historic Farm, seniors are able to save money and improve their health.
“We surveyed our seniors and we know that the majority of them don’t have gardens at home, maybe they don’t have access, maybe they live in apartments, maybe they’re just not physically not able to garden anymore,” Wagner said. “We’re delivering fresh produce to a population that has a limited ability to acquire that produce on their own.”
Wagner said the program is targeting senior centers in areas with a poor socioeconomic status.
“We go through and survey the seniors and we found that a lot of them are accessing food banks, food pantries,” Wagner said. “We also know that a lot of food pantries and food banks no longer handle fresh produce. They are just canned or frozen produce for people coming through to pick up food. Some of our seniors have told us that this is their fresh produce that they receive.”
In a survey, Wagner said 97 percent of the people save money, 99 percent say they now have a healthier diet, and 94 percent say access to the farmer’s market increases their consumption of fruits and vegetables.
Since all the produce is free, the gardens and farmer’s market for seniors is run by volunteers.
“So our volunteers are out there and they’re giving their sweat and tears managing these garden areas and taking this produce, but then they are able to see where it goes, who it goes to,” Wagner said. “Our master gardener volunteers, I think, love the markets about as much as the seniors do just because it is a very rewarding, very easy for them to see where their efforts are going and how it’s having a positive impact on this population.”
While a lot of the produce for the seniors comes from land on the Wheeler Historic Farm and the USU Botanical Center, the volunteers even grow fruits and vegetables in their own gardens.