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USDA Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program

What is the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program?

The US Department of Agriculture (USDA) initiated the Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) as a pilot program in 2001 to improve the diets of low-income seniors while providing the opportunity for farmers to enhance their business. The SFMNP has three purposes: (1) provide fresh, nutritious, fruits and vegetables from farmers' markets, roadside stands and community supported agriculture; (2) increase the consumption of agricultural commodities; and (3) aid in the development of new and additional farmers' markets, roadside stands, and community supported agricultural programs.

USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) announced the award of grants on 4/23/04 to operate the SFMNP during the 2004 season. A total of $16.7 million was available. The 2002 Farm Bill authorizes and provides $15 million annually to operate the SFMNP from Fiscal Year (FY) 2003 through (FY) 2007 . The SFMNP operated in 39 states, 6 Indian Tribal Organizations, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia during 2004, and served over 800,000 low income older adults.

According to Rebecca Liebes, Director of Nutrition, Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, participants of the SFMNP receive produce in a variety of ways, depending on the how the Program operates in a given state and/or area within the state. Some Programs deliver the produce to the individual; some provide coupons/vouchers to use at farm markets, farmers markets, or roadside stands; and some older adults become subscribers to community supported agricultural programs where they are provided a share of a farm's yield. Based on information from FNS, annual benefit levels vary from $15 to $315 in participating states; the average benefit level falls between $40-$50. Although limited in funding, Program benefits reflect the availability of produce and local operating costs.

The SFMNP is helping local farmers, while at the same time increasing the quality of older adults' diets and thereby helping to prevent or mitigate chronic disease, says Liebes. Studies and programs have determined that eating more fruits and vegetables can reduce the risk for cancer, hypertension, diabetes complications, cardiovascular disease, and other ailments. This Program enables older adults to improve their diets and their health.

At this time, the federal allocation is fixed at $15 million for all states. USDA is in the process of finalizing the plans for administration and operation of the SFMNP grants for FY 2005. Once those plans are definite, the Department's decision regarding the FY 2005 SFMNP will be posted on the FNS website, http://fns.usda.gov/wic .

What are Program implications as the SFMNP changes from a competitive grant to an “Authorized”
(permanent) FNS nutrition assistance program?

Presently, the SFMNP operates as a competitive grant program. Under its current structure, no USDA funds can be used for administration, ie, not for anyone from state to local levels to administer the Program, not to print/redeem coupons, not to publicize the Program, not to write reports, etc. The lack of administrative funds has been a barrier to state participation. When the SFMNP was authorized as a permanent nutrition assistance program by the Farm Bill (Public Law 107-76, enacted May 2002), the Secretary of Agriculture was also authorized to promulgate regulations to govern the Program. Therefore, USDA staff is in the process of developing regulations for the SFMNP. Legislation for the SFMNP indicates that the Program is for low-income individuals. USDA staff members have worked with HHS/Administration on Aging staff to ensure that the nutrition-service-related provisions of the Older Americans Act (OAA) are taken into consideration in the forthcoming regulations, especially given the collaboration with the aging network in many states.

In some State agencies, the SFMNP has limited interaction with the aging network, as the grantee is either the State Department of Agriculture, the State Department of Health, the State agency administering the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, welfare/human services), or another entity within that State's government entirely. The original Program announcement promoted the collaboration between the agency that would serve as the lead agency (i.e., the grantee) for the SFMNP and the State agency administering the CSFP (if a state had a CSFP) because they would serve the same eligible means-tested population.

The SFMNP is designed along the same lines as the WIC Farmers' Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), but there are several significant differences between the two programs. For example, FMNP benefits are limited to a minimum of $10 or a maximum of $30 per year from federal funds; FMNP State agencies must provide State or local matching funds equal to 30 percent of their administrative costs; and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs are not allowed in the SFMNP. Nutrition education is an important component in both the FMNP and SFMNP. Many SFMNP State agencies have used the Program benefits as a way to supplement and improve diets of older adults through increased fruit and vegetable consumption. Until now, states have been allowed to set their own benefit level. For national uniformity, USDA may try to determine if they should set a maximum benefit federally through regulation as they do for the FMNP.

Another issue is the choice of using a CSA program model or using only checks/coupons as is done in the FMNP. USDA tends to write regulations that require use of a single method nationwide. Most SFMNP State grantees use the more familiar check/coupon model; however, there are strong advocates for CSAs, and considerable variety in the types of CSAs that are currently in operation through the SFMNP.

Another issue for states is how to increase funding for the SFMNP using OAA funds. OAA funds cannot be used to support functions of a means-tested program. Therefore, if USDA writes regulations for the SFMNP as a means-tested program, OAA funds may not be used to support administrative functions of the SFMNP. However, nutrition education is a service provided to all OAA congregate and home-delivered participants. Nutrition education materials and sessions developed for OAA Nutrition Programs could be used with SFMNP participants, because they are not being developed solely for the SFMNP. There have also been requests to use OAA Title III C-1 and C-2 funds to provide vouchers for fruits and vegetables and to categorize the actual provision of fruits and vegetables as nutrition education. However, the actual provision of fruits and vegetables by themselves does not meet the definition of nutrition education in the State Program Report reporting instructions www.aoa.gov/prof/agingnet/napis/napis.asp .

Some states, attempting to be responsive to SFMNP's popularity, have tried to expand the SFMNP using OAA funds. Yet, there is also a shortage of funds to meet the increased demand for OAA Nutrition Program services. When USDA issues a Notice of Proposed Rule Making for the SFMNP, the Aging Network should comment on the proposed regulations. The Aging Network may also want to urge Congress to increase the total SFMNP appropriation amount.

How does the SFMNP operate at the local level?

At the Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, says Liebes, older adults pick up coupons at their local senior center, on a first-come, first-served basis. Six, $5 coupons are valid for June and July. In August, September, and October, older adults can come back to the center to get 4, $5 coupons each month. The available produce is limited during June. If seniors are not able to eat $20 worth of strawberries, they still may want some, and then they are able to purchase more produce as it becomes available in July. Since each month's distribution is first-come, first-served, on a monthly basis, the annual benefit amount for each older individual for the entire Program ranges from $30 to $90 during the season in Ohio . If a participant is homebound and unable to pick up coupons and shop for produce, s/he may designate a proxy.

To encourage selection and usage of a wide variety of fresh fruits and vegetables in Ohio, nutrition education is provided along with the coupons. Educational programs include full color handouts, with in-depth information and recipes highlighting the virtues of a particular fruit or vegetable. Innovative recipes, preparation and storage tips are included in the handout. Bus trips to farmers' markets often provide a captive audience for a nutrition educator who can easily stimulate discussions regarding seasonal fruits and vegetables, the benefits of consuming them, and selection, preparation, and storage techniques. Cooking demonstrations and tastings are provided at coupon distribution sites and/or at the farmers' markets. There have been many positive comments regarding all forms of educational programs provided to SFMNP participants in Ohio.

The SFMNP has also been an educational/cultural learning experience for Ohio farmers. Older adults are resolute about receiving the entire coupon's worth of produce. Farmers work with participants by suggesting they take a handful of green beans or cherries to make up the difference. Some farmers put together bags with a variety of fruits and vegetables that add up to the amount on the coupon. Senior centers call ahead when bringing busloads of older adults to an individually owned farm market and the farmer prepares samples of fresh produce and will talk about selection and cooking techniques.

A positive aspect of this Program is its flexibility from region to region in Ohio. Programs can respond to geographic availability of produce. Even within different regions of the same state, there is substantial variability in the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables grown. Areas with more locally grown produce stands provide participants with increased benefit levels relative to areas where fruits and vegetables are not grown. Eligible produce is limited to that which is locally grown. The impact on farmers has been considerable. According to Liebes, at least 5% of farmers participating in the Northwest Ohio Program stated they were about to sell their farms and discontinue growing fruits and vegetables until this Program was implemented.

How does the SFMNP operate at the state level?

States have similarities and differences in the way they operate the SFMNP. A table summarizing the characteristics of programs around the country follows. This information was obtained through a conference call described below.

How states determine participant eligibility illustrates the variety in program implementation. For example, in Northwest Ohio, older adults complete a one-page application form. The participant's signature declares that their income is at or below 185% poverty (amounts are listed). Alabama and Louisiana require recipients to provide documentation of eligibility, eg, below 185% of the poverty level. California and Washington target congregate sites and low-income housing. They require participants to self-certify their income status using a sign-up sheet that includes a statement that their income is below 185%. To participate in New Hampshire , individuals must be in the USDA Commodity Supplemental Food Program.

What is the SFMNP Listserve?

A Listserve was established at the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity and Aging at Florida International University to encourage collaboration among state units on aging nutritionists and administrators, state agencies that administer the Program, and appropriate USDA Food and Nutrition Service and AoA staff. Kim Kelley, Program Manager for the Aging and Disability Services Administration, Washington State, organized an initial conference call in April 2003 for State nutritionists/administrators that included Don Wambles, President of the National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs. Much of the call was devoted to sharing information on benefit levels, who and how the Program is administered, and identifying agencies and organizations that assist in providing resources including nutrition education. A table below presents this information.

For a complete listing of programs by State
TABLE of SFMNP Benefits by State

Contacts and Resources

  • The National Association of Farmers Market Nutrition Programs advocates for senior and WIC components. The Association reaches out to service providers, and encourages them to work together and share information. Half of the members are WIC and half are senior programs. The NAFMNP Board includes the USDA regional staff and 5 program members. Currently, 65 of 79 projects are members. www.nafmnp.org


  • Kim Kelley , MSW, Program Manager, Aging and Disability Services Administration, P.O. Box 45600, Olympia, WA 98504. 360-725-2558. kelleke@dshs.wa.gov
  • Rebecca Liebes , PhD, RD, Director of Nutrition, Area Office on Aging of Northwestern Ohio, Inc., 2155 Arlington Avenue, Toledo, Ohio 43609. 419-382-0624 ext. 153 rliebes@areaofficeonaging.com
  • Don Wambles , Administrator, State of Alabama Farmers Market Authority, RSA Plaza , Suite 330 , 770 Washington Avenue , Montgomery , AL 36130 . 334-242-2618. dwambles@fma.state.al.us

For a complete listing of programs by State
TABLE of SFMNP Benefits by State


Compiled by Barbara Kamp, Nancy Wellman, PhD, RD, Lester Rosenzweig, MS, RD, of the National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Aging, Florida International University, Miami, FL. Contact: nutritionandaging@fiu.edu

This project is supported, in part, by a grant from the Administration on Aging,
Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Grantees undertaking projects under government
sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions.
Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, reflect official DHHS policy.

Posted on: 11/03/04 Updated on: 02.04/05
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National Resource Center on Nutrition, Physical Activity & Aging
| Florida International University, OE 200, Miami, FL 33199
Phone: 305-348-1517 | Fax: 305-348-1518 | E-mail:

This website is supported, in part, by a grant from the Administration on Aging, Department of Health and Human
Services (DHHS). Grantees undertaking projects under government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their
findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, reflect official DHHS policy.