SPRINGFIELD – Farmers market season is in full swing, and older adults may be able to get help buying fresh, local produce.

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The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), administered jointly by the Illinois Department on Aging (IDoA) and Illinois Department of Human Services (IDHS), offers income-eligible older adults access to up to $50 worth of locally grown fruits, vegetables, herbs and honey from certified farmers.

“The Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program helps low-income older adults supplement their diets with fresh, seasonal produce,” said IDoA Acting Director Mary Killough. “What’s great about this program, aside from the nutritional benefits, is that it also helps to support Illinois farmers and local food economies.”

Melanie Kluzek, IDHS Commodity and Special Nutrition Programs Administrator, added, “Nutrition insecurity impacts all ages, but especially seniors living on a fixed income. For those managing chronic health conditions like diabetes and heart disease, increasing access to fresh fruits and vegetables can make a positive impact on their health.”

The SFMNP distributes free coupon books, each containing five $10 SFMNP checks, to more than 28,000 low-income older Illinoisans annually. Historically, federal funding only allowed for agencies to issue $25 in benefits per participant. IDHS applied for and received SFMNP American Rescue Plan Act grant funds, allowing them to issue the maximum benefit of $50 per participant for the 2023 and 2024 SFMNP seasons.

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Eligible participants must be at least 60 years old and have a household income at or below 185% of the federal poverty level. For a single-person household, that amount is $2,322 monthly. For a two-person senior household, the income threshold increases to $3,151.

SFMNP checks can be used between July 10 and Oct. 31 at participating farmers markets and roadside stands in 37 Illinois counties. Participants can identify SFMNP vendors by looking for a yellow sign with black lettering indicating “farmers market nutrition program benefits accepted here.”

Checks will be distributed before the program start date on a first-come, first-served basis by 11 of Illinois’ 13 regional Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Along with their checks, participants receive a list of farmers markets and roadside stands where they can be exchanged for fresh fruits, vegetables, honey and herbs. Participants are also provided with nutrition education materials, which may include recipes and tips for using fresh produce.

Income-eligible older adults are encouraged to contact their local AAA for application instructions. Those living in Chicago should contact the Greater Chicago Food Depository.

Kate Maehr, Executive Director and CEO of the Greater Chicago Food Depository, said,At a time when food insecurity remains elevated throughout Chicago, we are grateful to supportthe Illinois Department on Aging and the Illinois Department of Human Services to help ensure that our older neighbors have access to fresh, healthy food.”

About IDoA: IDoA serves and advocates for older Illinoisans and their caregivers by administering quality and culturally appropriate programs that promote partnerships and encourage independence, dignity, and quality of life. For information about the Department’s programs and services for older adults and persons with disabilities, visit https://ilaging.illinois.gov/ or contact the Senior HelpLine toll-free at 1-800-252-8966, Monday through Friday between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

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