Amid the bustle of vendors selling fresh fruits and vegetables at the North Andover Farmers Market, something was missing: the men and women from town who served in the military but couldn’t afford to buy produce from local farms.
So this year the market sprouted a program to provide low-income veterans $10 worth of vouchers to spend each week at the market.
“At the veteran’s office, we noticed there were families who weren’t able to enjoy the farmers market in the same way as the rest of the community,” said Crystal Clunie, the administrative assistant in the office.
The Veterans Food Security Program is funded entirely by donations from people in the community, businesses, nonprofits, and some of the vendors who participate in the market, which is held on Sundays.
“We missed many of our veterans at the market every Sunday. We wanted them there,” Clunie said.
So far, about $8,700 has been raised, most of it from a silent auction in June at Wine Connextion, a local business.
“I believe this country doesn’t do enough for the people that serve and protect us,” said Tina Messina, a Wine Connextion co-owner who serves on the farmers market committee. “I was taken aback when I learned there were veterans in our town that couldn’t afford to purchase food at the farmers market.”
The silent auction raised $5,600, enough to fund the program this summer and part of next year, said Joseph LeBlanc, the town’s director of veterans services.
“This program gives community members the opportunity to get some fresh food that they otherwise might not have access to,” said LeBlanc, whose office administers the vouchers.
About 30 veterans and their families have taken part in the program.
Carolyn Grieco, a vendor from Haverhill, said local residents of all ages and backgrounds volunteer or shop at the market.
“I feel the veterans program is an extension of this, widening the circle for even more of the community to enjoy the market,” said Grieco, owner of Carolyn’s Farm Kitchen. “I’ve had some folks use the coupons to purchase my products, and I think the program is fantastic!”
The market is every Sunday through Sept. 29 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at First and Main streets. To support the program, visit