Farmers Market Coupons Available for Qualifying SeniorsSep 29, 2020 10:04AM ● By Jane Lebak
Food insecurity is a concern for many area seniors. While most Massachusetts residents are familiar with local food pantries, Meals on Wheels, and the SNAP program, there’s also a lesser-known program called the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program.
Marty Schneier, Outreach Coordinator of the Holliston Senior Center, says, “It’s a great program, and people really appreciated it. One of the things that’s lacking from Meals on Wheels is fresh produce, and that’s what you get at a farmers market.”
A UMass Boston study from 2016 showed that Massachusetts has the second highest economic insecurity rate for single adults older than 65. Fewer than one-third of senior citizens in the United States eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, but the goal of the Farmers Market Nutrition Program is to increase these seniors’ access to nutritious local foods. Farmers market coupons can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, and even honey.
Qualifying individuals are given $25 to $50 in coupons. Coupons for this year will expire on October 31st, so anyone with coupons for this year should spend them this month.
According to the Farmers Market Coalition (farmersmarketcoalition.org), senior citizens in particular benefit from farmers markets. While locally fresh sourced is beneficial to everyone, the communal aspect of a farmer’s market adds an element of socialization and community. Individuals who shop at a farmers market may have up to twenty social interactions per visit, as opposed to two interactions per visit at a typical grocery store.
Farmers markets also benefit the community by bolstering the local economy. They feature area vendors who have a direct investment in the area and are in touch with the specific needs of their town’s customers. Meanwhile, by sourcing locally and eating seasonal foods, shoppers are eating fresher produce that wasn’t transported across the country—a benefit that’s not only nutritional but also environmental.
The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program began as a pilot program in 2001 and was subsequently authorized in the 2002 Farm Bill. In the 2018 Farm Bill, the program’s funding was increased to $20.6 million per year. In 2019, Massachusetts received over half a million dollars in federal funds, with nearly 25,000 individuals receiving coupons and 490 farmers participating at 298 markets and farmstands.
Each town has a separate procedure for getting coupons into the hands of seniors who need them, but the general process is the same. Coupons are distributed through area agencies. Depending on the town, they may go through Baypath, Tri-Valley, or the Health and Social Service Consortium. These agencies may then work with local senior centers or senior housing authorities.
In May or June, they start receiving applications. In July or August, the recipients will receive their coupons.
Erin Rogers of the Franklin Senior Center says, “Tri Valley reaches out to us to let us know how many coupons we’ll have. We let the seniors know, and then we screen the applicants.”
Recipients must be sixty years of age or older, disabled or living in senior housing where nutrition services are provided, and below certain income guidelines. In Massachusetts, this year’s guidelines were $23, 606 for an individual living alone, or $31,894 for a household of two.
Although we’re at the end of the season for 2020, coupons may still be available in some areas.
“We do still have some,” says Marty Schneier of Holliston. “Someone in need who comes in can still get a booklet of $25 worth of coupons for fruits and vegetables. Maybe even a pumpkin.”
By contrast, Franklin does not have any extra coupons at this point in the season. “The biggest complaint is we wish we could get more,” Rogers says. “We’ve had a lot of seniors using the Farmers Market in Franklin this year.”
Area farmers markets with vendors participating in the program are Mendon (closes October 4th), Ashland (closes October 10th), Walpole (October 24th), Dedham (October 28th), Franklin (October 30th), and Natick (which closes October 31st). Medway has participating vendors, but has closed for the season.
Participating booths will feature a green and white sign saying “Farmers Market Coupons Accepted.” Each coupon is worth $2.50. Because no change is given, anyone shopping with these coupons should bring change and/or small bills to get the maximum benefit from their coupons.
More information is available at https://www.mass.gov/farmers-market-nutrition-program, where seniors can check their eligibility for the program and learn how to apply for their coupons.