Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program


Helping low-income seniors buy healthy food from local farmers

Fewer than one-third of senior citizens in the United States eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, which are vital to preventing and treating health problems. The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) addresses this public health concern by incentivizing seniors to buy fresh produce from local farmers. SFMNP provides coupons to low-income seniors that can be exchanged for fruits, vegetables, herbs, and honey from authorized farmers, farmers markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs (CSAs). The goal of the program is to increase low-income seniors’ access to nutritious, local foods and to aid in the expansion and development of local markets.

Learn More About SFMNP!

Program Basics

The USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) has been running SFMNP since 2001. FNS provides cash grants to state agencies, which support 100 percent of the food costs and 10 percent of the administrative costs of the program. State agencies administer the program, disbursing coupons to low-income seniors and authorizing farmers, farmers markets, roadside stands, and CSAs to accept them. Qualifying seniors may receive no less than $20 and no more than $50 per year, though state agencies may supplement those levels with state, local, or private funds. The 2014 Farm Bill maintains the current $20.6 million per year mandatory funding level through 2018.

Eligibility

Seniors are eligible to receive coupons if they are at least 60 years old and have household incomes at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty line. Currently, 42 states administer SFMNP – primarily through state agencies such as Departments of Health, Agriculture, or Aging. To accept SFMNP benefits, farmers, farmers markets, roadside stands, and CSAs must become authorized by those state agencies. The process for becoming authorized varies by state, but in most cases requires attendance at a short training and a written agreement with the state. Vendors who exclusively sell produce grown by someone else, such as wholesale distributors, cannot be authorized. 

The Program in Action

In Fiscal Year 2013, SFMNP provided $21 million in coupons to approximately 840,000 seniors. More than 20,000 individual farmers at 4,000 farmers markets, 3,000 roadside stands, and 200 CSAs were authorized to accept SFMNP coupons.

Seniors across the country have taken advantage of this supplemental financial resource in order to increase their consumption of fresh, healthy, and locally produced fruits and vegetables. Examples of how specific states are using SFMNP to boost farmer income and support seniors include:

  • In Rhode Island, nutrition specialists from the Department of Elderly Affairs coordinated weekly informational meetings at 42 meal sites, during which seniors learned about the coupon program and the importance of consuming fresh fruits and vegetables. Of the more than 51,000 coupons that were distributed, more than 90 percent were redeemed at farmers markets and roadside stands for locally grown fruits and vegetables. This high redemption rate funneled $231,550 into the local agricultural economy and helped keep farming viable in Rhode Island.
  • In Georgia, one program increased the SFMNP voucher redemption rate from 82 to 96 percent by streamlining registration and voucher distribution and providing transportation for seniors to farmers markets at select senior centers. Participating seniors’ fruit and vegetable intake increased as a result of the program.

Read more about how SFMNP has increased farmers’ sales:

How to Apply and Program Resources

Interested farmers, farmers markets, roadside stands, and CSAs should contact their respective state agencies to find out how they can become authorized to accept SFMNP benefits. A list of participating state administrating agencies and coordinator contact information can be found on the contact list 

Program History, Funding, and Farm Bill Changes

SFMNP was established in 2001 as a USDA pilot program designed to improve low-income senior’s diets. The 2002 Farm Bill permanently authorized the program and provided $15 million per year to implement and expand it.  The 2008 Farm Bill increased mandatory funding to $20.6 million per year through 2012. Despite a provision in the House-passed farm bill to merge SFMNP with another program and cut its funding in half, the final 2014 Farm Bill maintains the current $20.6 million per year funding level.

Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program Funding 

Fiscal Year Annual Funding (in millions)
2014 20.6
2015 20.6
2016 20.6
2017 20.6
2018 20.6
5 yr total 103
10 yr total 206

Authorizing Language

Section 4203 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 amends Section 4402(a) of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002, to be codified at 7 U.S.C. Section 3007(a).


Last updated in October 2014.