The increasing level of hunger and food insecurity among seniors across the nation is a concern for many.
Connecting seniors with fresh fruits and vegetables to improve their health can often be a difficult task.
Many seniors don’t realize there are benefits available to them, while some who do know don’t take advantage of those benefits.
However, there are many agencies and individuals across the country reaching out to eligible and deserving seniors to get them all the assistance to which they qualify.
It is important for all of us who care about the aging community, whether these seniors are members of the family, of your community, or the customers you serve, to help them gain access to the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP).
What Is the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program?
The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program is an initiative of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) that provides grant funds to states and territories to provide low income seniors’ vouchers to purchase fresh produce. Funds are recently sourced under the Farm Bill.
Eligible food items include fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs. Non-eligible food items include dried fruits or vegetables, such as prunes (dried plums), raisins (dried grapes), sun-dried tomatoes or dried chili peppers. Potted fruit or vegetable plants, potted or dried herbs, wild rice, nuts of any kind (even raw), maple syrup, cider, and molasses are also ineligible.
Vouchers can be obtained by eligible seniors and used at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community-supported agriculture programs.
State agencies distribute vouchers to seniors during the summer months or harvest season, generally from May to October, according to the growing season in the area. Income eligibility standards are used to determine if your senior qualifies for vouchers.
You can use this locator to find sites to obtain vouchers for the seniors in your area.
Goals of the SFMNP
The USDA has established specific goals for the Farmers’ Market Program.
Their stated goals are:
“(1) Provide resources in the form of fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs from farmers’ markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture programs to low-income seniors,
(2) Increase the domestic consumption of agricultural commodities by expanding or aiding in the expansion of domestic farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs, and
(3) Develop or aid in the development of new and additional farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs.”
Seniors over the age of 60 are being served by this program. In 2015, benefits were available to 817,751 low-income seniors from 20,329 farmers at 3,774 farmers’ markets as well as 3,203 roadside stands and 180 community supported agriculture programs, according to the USDA.
States can add their own funding to the amount provided under the federal grant to increase the available amount of vouchers per individual or household.
You Can Help
We can all help seniors who need improved access to fresh produce. Here are some suggestions for things you can do to help older adults get the nutrition they need to stay healthy.
(1) Become aware of the issue of senior hunger
Knowledge is power and spurs action!
According to the National Council on Aging (NCOA), in 2014, 10.2 million older Americans faced the threat of hunger, representing 15.8% of adults aged 60+. In the U.S., food insecurity is growing among older adults. The food insecurity rate for all senior households was 8.3% in 2015.
This Fact Sheet about SFMNP can be shared with seniors in your community in order to spread the word and increase participation rates to get fresh food to those who need it! Once you learn more, spread the word to others!
(2) Connect seniors with this program
Connect seniors in our communities with the program so that they can participate. Use the locator with and for them to help them apply for benefits.
Many low-income seniors are forced to choose how to spend their fixed income on essentials such as medicine, rent, healthcare or food. Being able to get assistance with nutritious foods so that other essentials can be purchased will help our seniors get the nutrition they need at the peak of freshness.
(3) Help older adults access nutrition assistance programs
We can also help older adults access other ongoing nutrition assistance programs that help them obtain healthy foods throughout the year, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
The SNAP program is currently underutilized. NCOA report that 3 out of 5 seniors who are eligible for SNAP are not participating! Many seniors have difficulty gaining access to the application process and could use your help to complete the necessary forms to become a participant. Many seniors also feel that the amount of benefit is low but actually, any amount of money received will help them gain access to food each month.
There are also community based food banks/pantries that can help seniors in need. Senior day programs also provide a hot nutritious meal for their attendees. Can you help them connect to these programs?
(4) Advocate for funding of senior nutrition programs
Become an advocate for federal funding of senior nutrition programs. Government funding is not assured and it often means that advocates are needed to encourage officials to provide the necessary funding to help seniors avoid hunger and food insecurity.
(5) Contribute your time and money
Volunteer at your local senior food programs, donate to programs such as Meals on Wheels that serve homebound older adults, support a food pantry with donations, or help with faith based soup kitchens.
There are many opportunities in your community to make a difference in the nutritional health of underserved seniors.
“The best place to find a helping hand is at the end of your own arm.” ~~ Swedish proverb
“To make a difference in someone’s life you don’t have to be brilliant, rich, beautiful, or perfect. You just have to care.” ~~ Mandy Hale