More Local Food For More Local Folks

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May marks the beginning of the 2010
farmer’s market season in CU with
Urbana’s Market at the Square on Saturdays.
Urbana’s market—and unofficial
town square—is open 7 am to noon
every Saturday until November 6th at
the corner of Illinois and Vine in the Lincoln
Square parking lot. Everything for sale is grown or
made in Illinois. Each week an average of 6,200 people
shop for fruits and veggies, prepared foods, baked goods,
handmade soaps and jewelry amidst the buzz of curbside
music performances and informational booths for community
Champaign’s markets are opening soon too. Starting in
June, the Farmers’ Market on Historic North 1st Street will
be open Thursdays and the Champaign Urbana Public
Health Department’s (CPHD) Marketing Wellness on Tuesdays.
Organizers are planning to enhance the accessibility
and quality of this year’s markets by expanding educational
programming and promotion, adding to available payment
methods, and increasing the number of vendors.
There are many excellent reasons for holding farmers’
markets. The community as a whole benefits economically.
The direct support of local farmers, businesses, entrepreneurs
and hobbyists encourages the circulation of money
within the community. The economic benefit is even more
direct for the farmers themselves. According to LocalHarvest,
farmers are paid 18 cents on the dollar for food purchased
at a large supermarket; the other 82 cents go to middlemen.
At farmers’ markets, the middlemen are mostly
removed. Although money changes hands at farmers markets,
local economist Michael Brün believes the benefits to
the community are more social than monetary. “Both the
buyer and the seller are getting something other than what’s
being sold: the pleasure of doing work and supporting work
that’s thought of as useful, that requires skill, and demonstrates
a certain approach to life.”In other words, farmers’
markets are fun, gratifying, and build communities.
Many are celebrating the increased energy around farmers
markets, organics, and local foods in CU and across the
nation. Providing more options for people to use their federal
food benefits in addition to the Illinois WIC and
Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) at
farmers markets is a step in the direction of equal access to
fresh, whole, local foods.
Purchasing items at Market at the Square just got easier
with a new card system that allows patrons to swipe credit,
debit and LINK cards (formerly known as food stamps) in
exchange for wooden tokens to pay for items. In past seasons,
many patrons were deterred by the inability to use cards, and
the hope is that the new token system will make the market a
viable option for those who don’t regularly carry cash. On
May 8th, the day of the system’s introduction, 24 credit/debit
transactions and one LINK transaction were made.
To use a card, locate the city tent at the Northwest corner
of the market. Market staff will swipe the card, enter
the desired amount for the transaction, and issue tokens of
equivalent value. Tokens for LINK-eligible items are green
and valued at $1, while credit/debit tokens are orange and
valued at $5. LINK tokens come in smaller denominations
because change cannot be provided for purchases. Vendors
are reimbursed for tokens collected on a weekly basis.
Lisa Bralts, Director of Market at the Square, said the LINK
card option was introduced to increase access to the Market
for those with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program)
benefits. “This is win/win—the consumer wins and the
food producers win. That kind of economic activity encourages
entrepreneurship and builds relationships over time—
it’s priceless and good for communities.”Market at the
Square’s LINK program is modeled after the downtown
Bloomington Farmers’ Market program, which sold $2,000
in LINK purchases in its first season last year.
The LINK card option was also available last year in two
of Champaign’s markets—CPHD’s market, and the North 1st
Street Market—but each brought in less than $100 in LINK
purchases. Brandon Meline, Director of the CPHD market,
said few people took advantage of the LINK card option primarily
because of low awareness; the marketing budget was
frozen last year due to budget cuts. Director of the North 1st
Street market, Wendy Langacker, said their LINK purchases
were low because prices are higher at the market than in the
grocery store. “People would come to the market, maybe
spend $2.50 and say ‘I’d like to, but I can’t afford to’.”
To help address this challenge, Champaign’s Market on
North 1st Street plans to include demonstrations on how
to save money with seasonal cooking this year, and Market
at the Square launched the “Eat Here” campaign to educate
about the benefits of eating locally. It could also help to
share the work of authors such as food activist Michael
Pollan. He writes about the hidden costs of cheaper
processed foods on our health and on the environment.
For example, fast food prices are lower because cheap
meat is made possible by subsidized corn. While the
money that comes out of your wallet for a burger is low,
you’re also paying for it in taxes that go to corn farmers to
produce corn to feed the cattle.
Efforts to spread access are growing. According to the
Illinois Department of Human Services website, there are
eleven farmers’ markets in in the state accepting LINK
cards this year, including five new markets in Chicago.
Chicago’s first market to accept LINK cards opens May
13th and is located on Daley Plaza. California, Massachusetts,
Montana, Iowa, New Jersey, New York and Maine
have LINK programs in place already. The Food and Nutrition
Service of the USDA expects the number of SNAP
programs to increase. Programs like these will help the
entire community come together over a good meal!

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