New statewide fund will connect farmers and Illinois families using SNAP at farmers markets

Illinois families using SNAP will now have twice the buying power at farmers markets!

After five years of organizing, coalition building, and advocacy, legislators included a $500,000 appropriation for the Healthy Local Food Incentives Fund (HLFIF). The fund will provide farmers markets that accept SNAP with funds to match produce purchases. With the HLFIF finally fully funded, Illinois can apply for a match from the federal government, investing up to $1 million directly in families who need fresh food and farmers who grow it.  The budget heads to Governor JB Prtizker in June.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, support for family farms and vulnerable communities is more important than ever. Illinois is experiencing spiking unemployment and food pantries are seeing unprecedented need. At the same time, Illinois has over 1000 farms selling their products through local markets and looking to reach new customers. Many of these farms depend on sales at farmers markets, which are predicted to experience a severe decline in attendance and sales this year. The HLFIF will connect Illinois families seeking fresh food to farmers market vendors at a time when these connections are most needed. 

For low-income shoppers, the HLFIF means greater food access. SNAP match programs, like the ones that will be funded through the Healthy Local Food Incentives Fund, work by doubling the purchasing power of low income shoppers. SNAP shoppers who spend $25 at their farmers market are matched with an additional $25 to spend on fruits and vegetables, doubling their total shopping budget to $50.  

For farmers, like Traci Barkley, the HLFIF means greater economic opportunity.  Traci grows lettuce, carrots, tomatoes, and more on her farm Sola Gratia, situated behind St. Matthews Church in Champaign. She sells produce at the Champaign Farmers Market, where 31% of the farm’s sales come from SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) recipients. Traci’s farm works hard to meet the needs of her community, while remaining in business, and SNAP match programs like the one at the Champaign Farmers Market help her do it. 

The Champaign Farmers Market is one of nearly 90 markets in the state that offer a SNAP match program, supported through LINK UP Illinois— a federally funded grant program administered by the non-profit Experimental Station. This program has been so successful, SNAP recipients using the program report a 78% increase in their fresh fruit and veggie intake. And farmers like Traci report significant sales increases at markets that offer the program. But that program can’t reach all of Illinois’ 300+ farmers markets– meaning many shoppers and farmers, especially in rural communities, aren’t being served. 

Enter the Healthy Local Food Incentives Fund, which will enable farmers markets across the state to offer SNAP match programs. Double SNAP dollars will do double good; helping the most vulnerable in society purchase fresh food and providing needed economic support for local farms–  like Traci’s. When SNAP recipients shop at farmers markets, their federal SNAP dollars go into the pockets of family farmers and small businesses in Illinois instead of big box stores headquartered out of state. 

“Nearly a third of our vendors at the Champaign Farmers Market qualify for SNAP,” reports Traci. So some farmers will now gain even more potential business, and get to see their own SNAP benefits go twice as far!

The Alliance is proud that Illinois’ legislators stepped up to support our SNAP recipients and their access to nutritious, locally sourced produce. After years, the Healthy Local Food Incentive Fund has finally been realized; doubling SNAP dollars, providing more food security, and providing economic stimulus for our farmers.