By Sarah Everhart
Any Maryland farmer who wishes to accept federal nutrition benefits in the form of Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks (FMNP), Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program checks (SFMNP) and/or Fruit & Vegetable Check checks (FVC) at a Maryland’s Farmer’s Market this spring must be current on their application and training status. Any farmers new to FMNP/SFMNP/FVC programs or anyone who took training before 2013 must take training this year to participate in the program this market season. Once completed, the training it is good for three years. The Maryland Department of Agriculture (MDA) has announced 2015 training dates. The sessions are free but registration is required. Training registration information, upcoming dates, and locations can be found on MDA’s website.
What are these government assistance programs?
The FMNP is a federally funded USDA grant program that is administered by the Maryland Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene WIC Program. The WIC Program provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education at no cost to low-income pregnant, breastfeeding, and non-breastfeeding post-partum women, and to infants and children up to 5 years of age, who are found to be at nutritional risk. The FMNP was established by Congress in 1992, to provide fresh, unprepared, locally grown fruits and vegetables to WIC participants, and to expand the awareness, use of, and sales at farmers’ markets. A variety of fresh, nutritious, unprepared, locally grown fruits, vegetables and herbs may be purchased with FMNP coupons. Eligible foods include all locally grown fruits, vegetables, and herbs, except honey, grown by an authorized farmer. Eligible foods may not be processed or prepared beyond their natural state except for usual harvesting and cleaning processes. Examples of ineligible foods include: honey, jams, jellies, breads, maple syrup, cider, nuts, seeds, dried plums (prunes), dried chilies or tomatoes, eggs, meat, cheese and seafood.
The SFMNP is a Federally funded USDA grant program funded by the Farm Bill which provides grants to States to provide low-income seniors with coupons that can be exchanged for eligible foods (fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs) at farmers’ markets and farm stands. Coupons are issued to eligible SFMNP participants to buy eligible foods from farmers that have been approved by the State agency to accept SFMNP coupons at their farmers markets and farm stands. Fresh, nutritious, unprocessed fruits, vegetables, honey, and fresh-cut herbs can be purchased with SFMNP benefits.
The FVC Program is administered and managed by the Maryland Department of Health & Mental Hygiene (DHMH) as part of the WIC program. A national program, WIC is funded through the USDA and administered at the state level. Maryland was one of just 17 states to allow FVC redemption at farmer’s markets right from the beginning, and 2010 was the first market season farmers could accept FVC checks in addition to the other Federal nutrition benefits (FMNP, SNAP). Any variety of fresh whole or cut fruit or vegetable may be purchased with FVC benefits.
In 2014, over $500,000 went to farmers in Maryland who accepted FMNP/SFMNP/FVC checks. If you are a farmer who will be participating at a local farmer’s market, and you grow and sell the agricultural products applicable to the programs, it would be worth your time to take one of the free MDA trainings so you are able to accommodate customers using the above described forms of federal assistance.
For more information on accepting federal nutrition benefits at farmers markets, please see this link to a guide from the Maryland Farmers Market Association.