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 Link Match (formerly known as the Double Value Coupon program) 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.
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 over 350 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.
Recent statistics indicate that 1 of 6 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 Link Match program at its 61st Street Farmers Market. Link Match doubles the value of Link purchases at a farmers market by providing matching currency 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.