MORRIS COUNTY, NJ – The Morris County Nutrition Program and Ort Farms have partnered together for a third year to deliver fresh produce to senior citizens this summer through a farm-to-table, pilot program.
Under the cooperative arrangement, residents of Butler Senior Housing and Jefferson Chase have the option to place orders for prepackaged produce from the Long Valley based farm.
Items are carefully placed into bags picked up by the Nutrition Program staff for distribution to the seniors’ housing complexes. Produce varies seasonally with a mix of fresh fruits and vegetables.
The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is federally-funded. Vouchers are provided to income-eligible seniors during the summer that can be exchanged for foods such as fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs from participating farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture initiatives.
In Morris County, the program is being administered through the Morris County Division on Aging, Disabilities and Community Programming’s Nutrition Program.
“Historically, the program (SFMNP) has been running for many years, but the farm-to-table pilot program was first launched in 2021 in response to the pandemic’s impact on seniors’ ability to leave their residences. Morris County partnered with Ort Farms in 2021 where the vouchers were still administered, and seniors were given the option to have the county coordinate delivery. The program proved successful and has continued, with a few changes to this year’s program,” said Christine Hellyer, director of the Morris County Division on Aging, Disabilities and Community Programming.
Changes made to the farm-to-table program in 2023 included digitizing the voucher process by adding QR codes to plastic cards on lanyards that seniors wear while visiting participating farmer’s markets. It helped to reduce possible misplacement of vouchers. Additionally, the distribution amount per person in a household increased from $30 to $50, which ultimately equates to $25 worth of produce delivered on two separate occasions.
This season, a total of 72 bags of produce will be delivered to seniors living in two senior housing units. For the first 36 deliveries made on July 18 and 19, seniors were delighted to receive bags containing blueberries, peaches, string beans, potatoes, tomatoes, sweet corn and cantaloupe. A second delivery of seasonal fruits and vegetables is scheduled for September.
To further encourage participation this year, each senior who pre-registered for a produce bag received an indoor sprout blossom kit with the produce. The sprout blossom kit contains mixed herbs that grow under sunlight and can easily be adhered to windows and walls.
“We’ve also been distributing incentive bags to housing units with large populations of seniors, so housing unit coordinators can have a better idea of what seniors would receive. In any population of seniors, there are a proportion who are homebound. It’s important to have this outreach and let them know what they might be missing out on,” stated Hellyer.
“Seniors have more flexibility to travel again and mobile market food pantries are popping up in different places, but a need is still there—and we’ll keep delivering until that need is met!” stated Nutrition Program Director Rhea Young, who personally delivers the bags with support from a community service worker and two interns.
For more information and income guidelines to qualify for the Senior Farmer’s Market Nutrition Program, click here.
Now in its sixth generation, Ort Farms is a 400-acre farm currently run by three generations of the Ort family. The farm operates through all four seasons, offering home-grown produce and other goods at their market stand, as well as recreational activities for visitors.