Xiaomei is a Chinese grandmother who shops at Winchester Farmers Market every time her adult day care center organizes a group to go. She has been to the Market four or five times so far this season. When Xiaomei hears that the monthly outing is coming up, she is excited and always ready.

Xiaomei enjoys days spent at the center where elderly people with health needs gather for social interaction and support from staff (as shown in the photo of the interior of the Anew center). Her center, Anew Health Day Care Center, is one of several in Middlesex County that offers services in Mandarin and draws in mostly an Asian clientele. At the center they play mahjong, learn English, enjoy a hot meal, see a medical provider for health concerns, use the internet, sleep, read, and even have Bible study. Xiaomei likes making friends there. She takes singing and dancing classes.

Recently Xiaomei spoke with this writer at the Anew center. The interview was facilitated by C. P. Cheng, the center’s managing director (featured in the photo of the Anew banner) who translated. Xiaomei was shy about having her photograph taken and wished to be known by just her first name.

Xiaomei came to the United States from China in 2012 to join her son and his family. At first, she lived with them and cooked for the family and cared for her two young granddaughters. Now the girls are in college, and she has moved to a senior housing apartment.

Fresh Is Best

Xiaomei loves to cook. Shopping at Winchester Farmers Market is an opportunity to buy fresh foods. It’s also a time to get outside and spend time in a beautiful setting. On Saturday morning, she boards the bus with the group from Anew. On the way, she makes a mental list of groceries to buy and booths to visit.

She likes the pea tendrils sold by Song Yang of Flats Mentor Farm. And the garlic is always very fresh and so tasty. She visits Lanni Orchard and likes the wide assortment of fruits and vegetables.  Many in her group like the napa cabbage. At Under the Sun Farm, she appreciates that the prices are so clearly marked. She looks for white peaches, which are preferred and thought by many Chinese to be much sweeter than the yellow varieties. Honey is also a popular purchase.

Xiaomei describes herself as someone who is organized. She tries to be ready when it is her turn at the cash register, so the transaction is quick and smooth. After shopping, she usually has time to walk around to see what other vendors have to offer, for future reference. Then she finds a bench and waits until the bus returns.

It’s HIP to Buy Vegetables

Many of the people who qualify for services at Anew and other adult daycare centers also qualify to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. This federal program helps families with children, the elderly, and people with disabilities pay for the cost of food.

The Healthy Incentives Program (HIP) is a Massachusetts nutrition incentive program that helps SNAP clients buy more fruits and vegetables. Xiaomei and others like her with a SNAP card can shop at farmers markets and similar places (like farm stands, mobile markets, and community supported agriculture farm shares). As an incentive, SNAP clients receive a dollar back on their card for each dollar spent on eligible fruits and vegetables, up to a monthly limit.

Several years ago, Winchester Farmers Market began accepting SNAP and HIP to address food insecurity. Additionally, Anna’s Fund—from contributions made by individuals and Winchester institutions like the En Ka Society, our local banks, and local faith communities—provides a matching boost to SNAP and HIP shoppers’ purchasing power. 

Student Translators

One challenge is that many of the Chinese elders who enjoy shopping are not fluent in English and most vendors at the market speak little to no Mandarin. Xiaomei, for example, says she speaks a bit of English and can sometimes help other shoppers who are less fluent. At other times she too looks for a translator to assist with communication at the Market Manager’s tent and the vendors.

Coming soon: read how student volunteers from the Winchester School of Chinese Culture became volunteers to help the shopping experience go more smoothly for everyone.