Exclusive Op-Ed, U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville
There’s nothing better than a Saturday morning stroll through a farmers market. For tree nut farmers, the “farm to table” process isn’t so easy. They spend months working from dawn to dusk to grow the nut products Americans have come to know and love. Slow-growing tree nuts are a delicacy for many, whether eaten as an afternoon snack or prepared in a delicious dessert. There is no doubt you will find these hearty commodities at the farmers market, but at what cost?
From young to old, farmers markets are beloved by every age group. Many visit as a hobby, but for some, farmers markets are a necessity. For many low-income seniors, farmers markets provide the most affordable, fresh, and healthy options. For the 757,751 elderly Americans participating in the United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program (SFMNP), farmers markets are a way of life.
After meeting with some of Alabama’s over 837 pecan growers, I learned that pecans were not eligible for purchase through this important SFMNP program. My team saw an opportunity to fill a gap for growers and Alabama’s 54,000 eligible seniors – and we took action.
Since its authorization in 2002, nutritious tree nuts have been excluded from purchase through the program. Common tree nuts include pecans, walnuts, almonds, macadamia nuts, pistachios, and hazelnuts, all of which contain numerous essential nutrients vital to consuming a healthy diet. Not only are tree nuts a great source of protein, but consuming these products helps lower cholesterol and increase Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and antioxidant levels.
Following harvest, tree nuts pass from the grower to shellers, packagers, and distributors, each adding value, and cost, to the product. Unfortunately, increased production costs, such as fuel, chemicals, and equipment, have diminished revenue for growers who desperately need to pay expenses and break even.
Recently, I introduced S.2786, the Farmers Market Expansion Act, to combat the issues I heard from producers and provide additional nutrient-rich options for SFMNP-eligible seniors at no additional cost. My bill will open a new market for tree nuts and increase their demand, putting more revenue in growers’ pockets to cover expenses and continue producing. This legislation will allow common tree nuts to be purchased using SFMNP coupons at farmers markets, farm stands, and within community-supported agriculture (CSA) boxes, all of which are eligible venues for the program.
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, developing policies that support our farmers is a daily task. Currently, Congress is gearing up to prepare the 2023 Farm Bill, which authorizes and funds agriculture and nutrition programs for the next five years, which includes the SFMNP. Alabama seniors and tree nut farmers have my word that I will fight to ensure tree nuts are included in the program.