A Letter To Congressman Rodney Davis

On Saturday, Congressmen Rodney Davis (R-13), who serves on the House Ag Committee, came out to tour the Old Capitol Farmers Market in Springfield. We invited him to see USDA programs in action, like SNAP, Farmers Market Promotion Program and Specialty Crop Block Grants, and to let him know the value of federal support for local food and sustainable agriculture in the next Farm Bill.

Rep. Davis told us: the House Ag Committee needs to hear from you. He encouraged us to get folks to the Listening Session in Decatur, his district, who can share their stories.

With three members of Congress from Illinois on the House Agriculture Committee, folks in our state have a unique opportunity to shape the future of food and farming in this country. Check out our letter below to Representative Rodney Davis urging him to support the Local Food Marker bill and valuable local food programs.

The Honorable Rodney Davis
2833 S. Grand Ave. East
Springfield, Illinois 62703
Dear Representative Davis,

Thank you for visiting with us at the Old Capitol Farmers Market during National Farmers Market Week! We appreciate the opportunity to show you the market and the ways federal programs support our organizations’ work to connect farmers with markets, get fresh produce to families in need, and drive local economic development in your district and our state.

Since it began in 1999, the Old Capitol Farmers Market has grown to 50 farmer vendors from Champaign to Bloomington to Edwardsville and everywhere in between. The market is sponsored by HSHS St. John’s Hospital, provided by Downtown Springfield, Inc. and operated by Illinois Stewardship Alliance. By our last count on July 29th, over 4,000 people turned out. It has consistently been voted the “Best Reason to go Downtown” in the Illinois Times.

Thanks to a USDA Food and Nutrition Service grant, Illinois Stewardship Alliance received electronic benefit transfer (EBT) equipment in 2012 to accept SNAP at the market. Last summer, the number of SNAP customers more than doubled and generated $8,000 in produce sales to farmers. This year, we are on track to double that number again, thanks to a match grant through Experimental Station and Link Up Illinois Double-Value Coupon Grant. With funding from the USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP) program, the Alliance drives farmer’s specialty crop sales with free cooking classes, meal-kits prepared with local produce, and a regional Local Food Challenge. Foot traffic around the market enhances local economic development. SimplySmart smoothies began at the market and are now working toward a brick and mortar. Coffee from Café Moxo on Adams Street is a staple for marketgoers. This fall, ISA will have results of data collected to calculate the market’s full economic impact in our community.

The statewide nonprofit Illinois Farmers Market Association (ILFMA) has been instrumental in supporting the growth of farmers markets across Illinois. ILFMA was founded in 2010 and formally organized in 2011 with support from a USDA FMPP grant awarded to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. ILFMA is dedicated to the growth and management of farmers markets throughout the state. ILFMA’s mission is to support local food and food systems by giving farmers markets and producers access to resources, education and connections in order to grow healthier and economically vibrant communities. ILFMA partners with local, state, regional, and national organizations in educating market managers, producers, and the general public on the economic, health and social benefits of farmers markets and locally produced products.  ILFMA has worked in partnership with Link Up Illinois to provide outreach and training for SNAP Link EBT acceptance at farmers markets.

USDA awarded ILFMA a FMPP grant in 2015 to “Create a Robust Online Direct Marketing Network for Farmers Markets” to connect consumers to farmers markets. This initiative, ConnectFresh Illinois, available at www.ilfma.org, creates a searchable database for farmers markets and their vendors. The initiative facilitates coordinated training, marketing and promotion of farmers markets across Illinois. That database is also part of the “What’s in Season” phone app, www.whatsinseasonapp.com, funded through the USDA Specialty Crop Block Grant Program. The app allows users to access the data on a mobile device and find available products and farmers markets by zip code.

Since 2011, Link Up Illinois has provided funding, training and technical support to more than 90 Illinois farmers markets and market sites to enable them to implement Link Match, which matches purchases made with SNAP benefits, using an Illinois Link card. SNAP shoppers receive a one-to-one match for purchases of SNAP-approved produce, essentially doubling their buying power at participating farmers markets.

Just this month, Link Up Illinois received a $487,000 FINI grant to expand the availability of SNAP incentives to three community health clinics, twenty farmers markets, and two food cooperatives, including Green Top Grocery in Bloomington. This FINI award builds upon a $250,000 USDA Farmers Market SNAP Support Grant (FMSSG) previously awarded to Experimental Station to support the acceptance and usage of SNAP benefits at Illinois farmers markets, as well as a $313,000 2016 FINI award to expand Link Match to downstate markets. The downstate markets that will benefit from SNAP match include the OCFM, Urbana’s Market at the Square, Downtown Bloomington Farmers Market, The Land Connection’s Champaign Farmers Market, and the Illinois Dept. of Agriculture Illinois Products Farmers Market.

We are grateful for the USDA programs that support our work in your district to make fresh and healthy foods sold at farmers markets more accessible and affordable for low-income people, put more dollars into the hands of family farmers, and promote economic development across central Illinois.

As we look ahead to the 2018 Farm Bill, our communities would benefit from increased funding for the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program, and expanding the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program. Farmers would directly benefit from strengthening existing infrastructure that connects producers to consumers, GAP training, technical assistance, and funding for the Value-Added Producer Grants Program. We all benefit from SNAP funding that increases access to fresh, healthy, local food among communities in need.

We hope you will sponsor the Local Food Marker Bill that captures these Farm Bill programs across several USDA mission areas and multiple titles.

We look forward to continuing this relationship and to future meetings with you and your dedicated staff. In the meantime, if we can be of any assistance, please contact us.

Sincerely,

Liz Moran Stelk
Executive Director
Illinois Stewardship Alliance,
Old Capitol Farmers Market
liz@ilstewards.org
(217) 528-1563

Dale Hazlewood
Board Member
Farmers Market Coalition &
Illinois Farmers Market Association
a1dale@comcast.net

Corey Chatman
Link Up Illinois Program Manager
Experimental Station
corey@exeprimentalstation.org
(773) 241-6044

Representative Rodney Davis (center) with staff and representatives from Illinois Stewardship Alliance, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Farmers Market Coalition, and Experimental Station

Representative Rodney Davis chats with Chase Sanert of Sugar Grove Family Farms. Also pictured, Liz Moran Stelk, Executive Director and Lindsay Keeney, Market Manager at Illinois Stewardship Alliance.

Lindsay Keeney, Illinois Stewardship Alliance Outreach Coordinator and Market Manager, discusses with Rep. Rodney Davis the impact that the SNAP program and Farmer Market Promotion Program Grants have had on the Old Capitol Farmers Market and the Spingfield community at large.