Building Independent Cultural Infrastructure
As Chicago Farmers’ Markets open across the city today, we must ensure that all Chicagoans have the ability to purchase fresh, healthy food for their families. The Link Match Program is one of the many ways that Chicago is working to expand healthy living opportunities for residents. I am pleased to be working with the Department of Family and Support Services to offer this phenomenal program at 30 Farmers’ Markets in the City of Chicago.
Simon said she wants more Illinois farmers markets to accept food stamp benefits known as LINK to drive up sales at markets – often held in downtown communities – and to spread the health benefits of locally grown, fresh foods.“I am happy to report that the increases we have seen in LINK sales at farmers markets in recent years have not lost steam,” said Simon, who serves as ambassador to Illinois Main Street. “This is healthy news all around. More low-income residents are gaining access to fresh, healthy foods. Our farmers are finding new buyers. And we’re keeping our communities vibrant places to visit.”Simon...cited innovative promotions that attract shoppers, such as the LINK Up Illinois program.The LINK Up Illinois program, launched in 2011, worked with 20 participating markets across the state, including the Illinois Products Farmers Market and Experimental Station’s 61st Street Farmers Market. It provided an extra $43,000 in fresh and healthy food to low-income Illinoisans – at no cost to the buyers – in the 2011 calendar year.
The first night of implementing LINK Up surpassed the first eight weeks of the market combined. But that was not the biggest surprise of the evening. What stuck with me was the amount of gratitude LINK cardholders expressed for offering Link Match funds. The benefit recipients were so grateful to purchase local and fresh produce.
I have not talked to one person, be it vendor, customer, or community supporter who didn’t think LINK Up Illinois was a wonderful idea.
Through the generous support of LinkUp Illinois, our markets have reached a greater customer base, experienced an increase in LINK sales, and improved the access to healthy, fresh produce in underserved Chicago communities.
Our first several months of [offering LINK] showed sustained growth in 2010; however our Market really didn’t see significant growth in LINK sales until we were awarded the LINK Up Illinois grant monies in 2011. The grant encouraged us to promote the market by reaching out to social service agencies such as CEDA-WIC, the Oak Park Housing Authority, Oak Park Township Senior Services, PCC Wellness Center, The Children’s Clinic, and approximately 19 day care centers in Oak Park and surrounding communities. The outreach paid off...in 2011, our LINK and Double Coupon sales grew to an astonishing $7,572.96, so much more than we had anticipated.
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