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More Farmers Markets Take Food Stamps, Everybody Wins 

July 26, 2012
By Anthony Todd

A new federal grant will allow more farmers markets to take SNAP benefits, commonly known as food stamps, by providing wireless technology. Link cards, the debit cards that hold the money for SNAP benefits, generally can't be used outside of stores - but thanks to some cash from the USDA, more people will be able to shop at markets. That means better nutrition for low-income buyers and more cash for farmers.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon announced on Tuesday that Illinois had gotten money to upgrade 41 farmers markets throughout the state. It only costs $1200 to allow markets to take Link cards, but most markets run on a small budget and can't afford to upgrade on their own. Some Chicago markets (including the Glenwood Sunday Market and the Green City Market) had already developed their own ways to take Link cards, but this will expand the idea even further. In addition, many markets match or double Link dollars, further encouraging people to shop at farmers markets.

Given the enormity of the "food dessert" problem in Chicago, anything that gets more produce into the hands of low-income Chicagoans is a good thing. What a great use of government money - a program that is cheap, fits existing policy goals and makes existing programs (SNAP) more effective.

Progress Illinois talked to one farmer, Josh Dodson, who has seen a 10% increase in sales since many of the markets he participates in began accepting Link. At least 3 markets in Chicago will be getting cash - George Washington Carver Farmers Market, Loyola Farmers Market and Portage.