The Department of Environmental Management (DEM) Division of Agriculture today announced that it is extending its Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) bulk purchase pilot program through November and December, resulting in an estimated 2,500 boxes of fresh Rhode Island food to eligible seniors.

The purpose of this program is to keep food security funds right here in Rhode Island. Due to the unpredictability of coupon redemption rates, recently amplified by the pandemic, the DEM has transitioned the program fully into the bulk purchase program. DEM is working closely with the Rhode Island Office of Healthy Aging to determine what communities are in most need of this assistance and to ensure the most helpful outcome. This effort will be done in partnership with Farm Fresh Rhode Island (FFRI), which will source, pack, and deliver the food boxes to 25 different sites across the state. 

“Utilizing and promoting local Rhode Island growers and fresh Rhode Island produce to help feed aging Rhode Islanders experiencing  food insecurity is a win all around,” said Governor Dan McKee in a statement. “My administration is proud that DEM and the Office of Healthy Aging are teaming up with Farm Fresh RI to deliver fresh, nutritious food to our neighbors in need.”

“The COVID pandemic has dramatically decreased visits to farmers’ markets by eligible seniors, who exchanged coupons for fruits, vegetables, fresh-cut herbs, and other foods,” said DEM Acting Director Terry Gray in a statement. “The growing number of unredeemed coupons necessitated our returning money to USDA for this vital program. In response, however, earlier this year DEM’s Division of Agriculture created a pilot bulk purchase program aimed at delivering healthy, nutritious food directly to low-income Rhode Island seniors. Next year, we will switch completely over to a bulk purchase program and not rely on coupons at all. I am grateful for the responsiveness of Ken Ayars’s team at DEM and the partnership of Farm Fresh RI and the Office of Healthy Aging for helping ensure that food insecure older Rhode Islanders can meet their basic food needs.”

“Farm Fresh Rhode Island is thrilled to partner with the RI DEM to ensure more seniors have access to fresh, local food,” said Farm Fresh RI Market Mobile Sales Director Nikki Ayres in a statement. “Our mission is rooted in making connections — empowering local farmers with market-based opportunities to sell their produce to local eaters, which increases farm viability and access to nutritious food for the community. We are thoughtfully sourcing items from a variety of local growers and delivering boxes packed with fresh produce directly to senior centers — feeding people in need right where they are while keeping the journey food takes through the supply chain short.”

“The RI Office of Healthy Aging (OHA) is pleased to partner once again with the DEM and Farm Fresh RI to address hunger and food insecurity, through the USDA Farmers Market Senior Nutrition Program,” said OHA Interim Director Michelle Szylin in a statement. “This annual effort is especially important in providing eligible older adults over age 60, those who are low-income, and adults with disabilities fresh local produce. With OHA’s extensive network of partners in the community, we can continue to address food insecurity within these populations across the state.”

The Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP) provides low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods (fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs) at farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and community supported agriculture (CSA) programs. 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 USDA Food and Nutrition Service has been running SFMNP since 2001 with the annual Farm Bill passed by Congress providing federal funding for the program. Each year the SFMNP program relies on the redemption of coupon vouchers.

Eligible seniors will receive a free food box filled with local seasonal produce with a value of $20. Produce will be provided by farmers throughout Rhode Island.

For more information about DEM divisions and programs, visit www.dem.ri.gov.

Ryan Belmore is the Owner and Publisher of What's Up Newp. He was born and raised in Rhode Island and graduated from Coventry High School. He serves as Vice President of Fort Adams Trust and serves on the Board of Directors for Potter League for Animals. Ryan also is currently the Senior Editor - North America for Mountain News, publisher of OnTheSnow. Ryan is a member of Local Independent Online News (LION) Publishers and North American Snowsports Journalists Association (NASJA).