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Grants are available to help farmers' markets take plastic 

June 25, 2012
By Kay Shipman

A new USDA grant could triple the number of Illinois farmers’ markets capable of making electronic sales, potentially selling more fresh fruits and vegetables.            

Recently, USDA awarded the state a $182,000 grant for a wireless Electronics Benefits Transfer project to expand sales of fresh produce to low-income people who use LINK cards for federal food assistance. The grant application deadline for farmers’ markets is July 9.            

The wireless machines also will accept conventional credit and debit cards, potentially expanding sales to all customers, said Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council.            

“When I go to the grocery store, I use our debit card,” Simon said.            

Many consumers prefer electronic shopping and don’t carry cash, Simon noted. The wireless machines would help vendors at farmers’ markets access those types of sales, too, she added.            

Currently, 50 out of 300 farmers’ markets across Illinois use wireless machines. The grants could expand electronic transactions to another 150 farmers’ markets, she estimated.            

Simon speculated cost is a main reason more farmers’ markets don’t offer electronic sales. “Most farmers’ markets run on a shoe-string budget,” she said.            

The grant program is being administered by the Illinois Department of Human Services and the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA) with support from the lieutenant governor’s staff.            

Eligible farmers’ markets must obtain certification to accept federal food assistance benefits. The grant program will reimburse markets for the cost of a wireless machine, activation fees, and wireless service up to a maximum of $1,200.            

IDOA and the lieutenant governor’s staff will provide markets with information about using and promoting  wireless machines. In addition, a training webinar will be provided Wednesday and recorded for online viewing.            

To study the impact of electronic sales on farmers’ markets, researchers at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale will collect data and conduct market surveys. Their findings will be released late next year or in early 2014.            

For more information about the program and grant applications, call 217-0524-9129 or go online to {}.