Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)
The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) is the only federal program dedicated to connecting local farmers with Americans over age 60 who are experiencing food insecurity.
SFMNP provides low-income seniors with coupons for use at their local farmers market, to purchase unprocessed fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs. In 2015, SFMNP benefits were made available to 817,751 low-income seniors to use at 20,329 farmers at 3,774 farmers markets as well 3,774 roadside stands and 180 community supported agriculture (CSA) programs across America. (1) As these numbers indicate, the program has been successful in supporting America’s community farmers, in addition to improving senior nutrition options.
SFMNP funds are currently administered to 52 participating states, territories, and tribal governments, who then distributed the coupons through health departments and senior groups. The amount per recipient is small—a minimum of $20 per year, and a maximum of $50—however, the benefits have provided enough incentive to motivate seniors to go to the farmers market, which in itself is a victory for healthy habits. Social engagement and community connectedness become increasingly important as we age, indicating that seniors in particular benefit from one often overlooked benefit of a trip to the farmers market—social interaction. One study revealed that people who shop at farmers markets have 15 to 20 social interactions per visit, while they would only have one or two per visit to the grocery store. (2)
In an effort to increase the incentive further, Farmers Market Coalition member organizations across the country have been finding the resources to maximize SFMNP benefits. In just one example of grassroots innovation, the Crescent City Farmers Market in New Orleans hosts ‘Meet Me at the Market’ tours and educational games for seniors visiting the market, and matches SFMNP dollars that are spent on produce. This increase in funds enables SFMNP to more effectively attract nutritionally at-risk seniors to the market, while also making a more significant dent in their grocery bills.
SFMNP won’t solve the problem of feeding our nation’s 5.4 million (3) food insecure seniors on its own, but the program has proven to be a highly effective means of achieving two goals at once: motivating seniors maintain healthy eating habits while supporting local family farmers who are growing fresh produce in their region. The program’s 85% coupon redemption rate indicates that the program is well-received and that the desire for fresh food is real and prevalent in the low-income senior community.
The 2014 Farm Bill provided $20.6 million annually to operate SFMNP through 2018; however a rescission of $1,503,800 reduced the amount available in 2015 to $19,096,200.
(1) USDA, Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program Overview, 2015. http://www.fns.usda.gov/sites/default/files/wic/SFMNPFactSheet.pdf
(2) Kaugman, N., and S. Davies. Public Markets Promote Eceonimic, Social, and Health Benefits—and should be Encouraged. The Planning Report.
Retrieved from http://www.actlocallywaco.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Public-Markets-Promote-Economic-Social-and-Health-Benefits.pdf
(3) National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and Feeding America.
(4) Harris, J.L., Schwartz, M.B., and K.D. Brownell. (November 2010). Fast Food FACTS: Evaluating Fast Food Nutrition and Marketing to Youth. Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity.