Key Takeaways

  • The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program helps older adults obtain fresh food from local farms, roadside stands, and CSAs at no cost.

  • State Councils on Aging often administer the program, which provides farmers’ market vouchers for eligible low-income seniors.

  • To qualify, you must be at least 60 years old with a household income at or below 185% of the federal poverty line. Is this you? Learn how to apply.

You may already know about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)—an important government-funded benefit that helps income-eligible households afford the food they need to maintain good health. But have you heard about the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP)? If you receive food stamps or participate in another means-tested assistance program, you might also qualify for SFMNP.

What is the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program? (SFMNP)?

The SFMNP is another financial resource you can use when it’s time to replenish your fridge.

Each year, the SFMNP helps more than 800,000 low-income older adults purchase fresh, locally grown vegetables, fruits, herbs, and honey at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture programs (CSAs).1 Funded by the Farm Bill, this federal/state partnership provides produce vouchers and nutrition education to participating seniors so they can diversify and improve their diets while learning skills for selecting, storing, and preparing fresh food. The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) awards grants to authorized agencies—such as State Councils on Aging or State Departments of Health—who then administer all aspects of the program including how to apply for senior farmers’ market nutrition program benefits, distributing farmers’ market vouchers, enrolling local selling partners, and designing relevant educational sessions.

It's important to know that SFMNP is an optional program and not every state participates. Nor does every participating agency offer statewide access. As of Fiscal Year 2020, the period for which the most recent data is available, 55 state agencies, U.S. territories, and federally recognized Indian Tribal Organizations (ITOs) received FNS grants to fund the SFMNP.2 You can use the USDA’s state agency contact map to check availability in your area.

Is the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) the same as SNAP?

No. While both programs help eligible seniors afford healthier food, each is funded and administered separately.

Can I receive both SFMNP and SNAP assistance?

Yes. Neither program is mutually exclusive. In fact, when used together, both can help you stretch your grocery budget even further (see below for more details).

How do I qualify for the SFMNP?

Qualifying for the program is straightforward: You need to be at least 60 years old, with a household income that doesn’t exceed 185% of the federal poverty guidelines.

As of March 2022, this means you can receive $1,986 monthly (or $459 weekly) if you live in a single-person senior household in the contiguous United States.3 If you live in a two-person senior household, these monthly numbers increase to $2,686 and $620, respectively.

You may not even need to document your household income when you apply for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program. Some state agencies will simply accept proof of participation in another means-tested program, such as SNAP or the Commodity Supplemental Food Program, to determine your eligibility.2

How do I apply for the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program?

First, you’ll need to identify the agency that administers the program in your state. You can do that by visiting the USDA’s state agency contact map.

Because the actual application process can vary, be sure to reach out directly to your local administrative office for detailed information and guidance.

How much will I get in SFMNP assistance?

If you’re eligible for the program, you’ll receive between $20 and $50 each year. Individual agencies may also supplement these benefits with state, local, and/or donor funds.

Twenty dollars may not sound like much. Keep in mind, though, that buying your produce directly from the farmers who grow it can translate to much lower prices than what you’d pay at the grocery store. And if you combine your SFMNP assistance with SNAP benefits at the farmer’s market, you can get even more for your money. (More on this below).

How does the SFMNP work?

For consumers, the process is streamlined and simple.

Each state agency issues benefits in the form of farmers’ market vouchers which you can then use to buy your produce. Once redeemed, authorized farmers, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and roadside stand operators submit these vouchers to the appropriate agency for reimbursement.

Can I use both SFMNP and SNAP at farmers’ markets?

Absolutely. And it can be a great strategy to pair them up.

First, while you may only use Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program dollars for veggies, fruits, herbs, and honey, you can use your SNAP benefits for a broader list of items—including meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, bread, and more. Together, both programs can help fill your farmers’ market basket with a well-rounded selection of groceries. This helps your health, and the health of your local economy, too.

Second, thanks to the Double Up Food Bucks program, your SNAP dollars wield twice the purchasing power at participating farmers’ markets (and other eligible retailers) when you use your benefits card to buy fresh fruits and vegetables. Check with your farmers’ market manager for details and assistance on how to make this happen.

Tom, 60 years old, recently learned about Double Up Food Bucks in Colorado.

After qualifying for SNAP benefits, he was excited about what he could buy. “Not only can I shop for the healthy food I want, but I also can use SNAP at my local farmers’ market,” he says. And, thanks to Double Up Food Bucks, he can even afford locally grown cantaloupe, too.

Double Up Food is currently available in 25 states, and you’re automatically eligible if you receive SNAP benefits.4

What percentage of the Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program cost is supported by federal funds?

The 2002 Farm Bill permanently authorized the SFMNP and fully funds its costs each year.5 While the vast majority of FNS grant money passes through state agencies to provide direct benefits to seniors, individual partners are allowed to spend up to 10% of grant funding on administrative costs. If you’re an eligible senior, you’ll receive famers’ market vouchers and nutrition education at no cost to you.

Eating well is essential for good health as we age—yet it can be difficult to afford healthy food on a fixed income. BenefitsCheckup.org, a free service offered by the National Council on Aging, matches your unique needs to relevant benefit programs, current eligibility requirements, and application information using a simple online screening tool. Learn more about nutrition and other financial assistance programs that can help you maintain good health and economic security now, and into the future.

Sources

1. USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s “Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program”. Found on the internet at https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp/senior-farmers-market-nutrition-program

2. USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s “Seniors Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program 2021 Fact Sheet”. Found on the internet at https://www.fns.usda.gov/sfmnp/fact-sheet-2021

3. National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition’s “Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program”. Found on the internet at https://sustainableagriculture.net/publications/grassrootsguide/local-food-systems-rural-development/farmers-market-nutrition-program/

4. USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s “2021-2022 Income Eligibility Guidelines”. Found on the internet at https://fns-prod.azureedge.net/sites/default/files/resource-files/SFMNP-Policy-Memo-2021-1-IEG.pdf#page=3

5. Fair Food Network’s “Double Up Food Bucks”. Found on the internet at https://doubleupamerica.org/