LINK Up Illinois

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Making healthy farm-fresh foods more affordable by doubling the value of LINK card purchases at farmers markets across the state.

The Experimental Station seeks to increase the affordability and accessibility of nutritious foods sold at Illinois farmers markets for low-income Illinoisans, rebuilding linkages between local agricultural producers and consumers. LINK Up Illinois is a program that helps achieve this goal by providing farmers markets across the state with funding for Double Value Coupon incentive programs for LINK Card (Illinois' SNAP program, formerly known as “food stamps”) shoppers. LINK Up Illinois also provides participating markets with training and technical assistance for implementing these programs successfully.

look at how much more food through LINK Up Illinois double value match
On the left, a $25 dollar basket at the 61st Street Farmers Market. On the right, that same basket plus $25 more worth of food from the Double Value Coupons.

Why We Need This Program

The creation of farmers markets in under-served urban neighborhoods and in rural towns across the state of Illinois has provided a welcome and low-overhead means of making healthier food choices available. Illinois currently has 315 farmers markets, with more being established each year. Yet creating farmers markets to solve the access issue has revealed that food access is a multi-dimensional problem that will not be resolved by simply adding yet another farmers market.

DVCP handoff at the 61st street market
Double Value Coupons at the 61st Street Farmers Market. Photo by Axel Peterman

Recent statistics indicate that 1 of 7 Illinoisans receives LINK benefits, including people of all ages and races. For many low-income Illinoisans, the only foods available to them are those that may be purchased with their LINK card. In order for farmers markets to be accessible to them, the markets must have Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) systems in place that allow customers to use their LINK cards at the market. Additionally, the often higher prices of fresh, nutritious, and locally produced foods sold at farmers markets can make these foods unaffordable for low-income customers.

A Recipe for Health

In 2009, the Experimental Station piloted Illinois' first Double Value Coupon Program at its 61st Street Farmers Market. A Double Value Coupon Program doubles the value of LINK purchases at a farmers market by providing matching coupons redeemable at the market for LINK eligible foods. Combined with targeted outreach efforts, these programs have dramatically increased LINK purchases at farmers markets, which nearly vanished when “food stamps” shifted from physical stamps to electronic bank cards.

2010 to 2012 with LINK and DVCP incentives
Our 38 participant markets in 2012 cleared $155,604 of SNAP and $71,396 of DVCP sales. That’s $227,000 spent on locally grown farm fresh foods. Recent research from Moody’s suggests that every $1 of SNAP money spent creates $1.73 for local economies. By this measure, the LINK Up Illinois program benefited the state’s local economies by $392,700 in 2012!

LINK Up Illinois was launched in 2010, in partnership with Wholesome Wave and the Illinois Farmers Market Network.

In its second year, LINK Up Illinois provided technical support, training and matching funds to 20 farmers markets around Illinois, generating over $84,000 in LINK sales. Combined Link and Double Value Coupon Sales totaled $126,477.

In 2012 Link Up Illinois partnered with 38 markets across the state. Combined Link and Double Value Coupon sales reached $227,000.

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