Increasing food access through SNAP

4/15/2016

Here in Chicago we are lucky to have an abundance of local and sustainably grown produce from the many rural and urban family farms located within a few hours of the city. Whether it is the healthier and fresher food; the reduced environmental impact; or the support provided for small farmers, the benefits of shopping at a local market like Green City Market abound. However, access to fresh produce, whether directly from local farmers or from a grocery store, is not a reality for tens of thousands of families in Chicago. Over 760,000 Cook County residents are food-insecure. Food insecurity is defined by the USDA as limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods.  Many food-insecure individuals and families rely on Supplemental Nutritional SNAP benefits in order to purchase food. More than 1 in 6 Cook County residents receives SNAP benefits through Illinois Link cards, including people of all ages and races and from all neighborhoods. The hidden costs of food insecurity in our community, including avoidable healthcare costs, poor educational outcomes, and lost productivity further indicate the urgency of the problem and our need to work toward a solution.

By accepting Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and offering a Double Value Matching program, GCM is working to help combat this disparity. In order to help make SNAP dollars go farther and encourage LINK beneficiaries to frequent the market, all GCM locations double the value of LINK benefits dollar-for-dollar (up to $15/market) to spend at the market.

GCM is one of the increasing number of farmers markets in Illinois with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system in place that allows customers to use their Link dollars to make purchases at the market. In recent years, the implementation of these systems, which are crucial in making farmers markets inclusive and accessible sources of food, have made remarkable strides in Illinois. Between 2008 and 2014 Illinois saw an increase in SNAP-authorized Farmers Markets of 1222.2%, from 9 markets to 119. Even more impressive has been the increase in total SNAP redemptions at farmers markets, from $1,594 in 2009 to $383,585 in 2014 - an increase of over 23,959%. Nationwide, SNAP redemptions at farmers markets jumped from $4.2 million in 2009 to $16.6 million in 2013. Last year, $12,500 Link benefits were redeemed at Green City Market. These numbers reflect the growing demand from shoppers for farmers markets to accept SNAP benefits.

However, the often higher prices of fresh, nutritious, and locally produced foods sold at farmers markets can make these foods unaffordable for low-income customers even when Link cards are accepted. In order to remove barriers and make it possible for all members of our community to access nutritious, fresh foods, regardless of income, GCM, along with many other farmers markets around Illinois offers its Link Double Value Matching program. Last year we gave out over $11,000 in additional matching funds, increasing the affordability and accessibility of locally grown food for individuals and families from over 55 zip codes in the Chicago area. This incentive program has proven consistently to increase low-income shoppers’ likelihood to purchase more fruits and vegetables and to try new or unfamiliar produce. At GCM, Link cards and matching funds can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables, grains, breads, honey, meat and poultry, dairy, eggs, and value-added foods (eg. preserves, sauces, pickled food, soup).

When farmers markets accept SNAP, everyone wins! It not only empowers low-income individuals and families to bring home fresh and healthy food and helps local farmers by providing more revenue and the potential for more dedicated customers, but it also strengthens our Green City Market community by keeping more food dollars circulating in the local economy and allowing us to get closer to achieving our goal of creating a sustainable food system for the Chicagoland area. The USDA has calculated that every $1 of SNAP spent at a farmers market generates $1.80 in economic benefit.

Despite the major strides that we have made, we still have a long way to go. $16.6 million is a number to boast about, however, $74 billionSNAP benefits were spent in 2015, which means that only .02% of SNAP money is being spent at farmers markets. It is our goal to increase that number. You can help us work to meet our goal by donating to GCM or learning about the many ways to become a GCM sponsor. Working together, we can strive to ensure food security for all Chicagoans.



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