This week I'm starting my blog out with a brag, because I am still blown away by our second Triple Link Tuesday promotion last week at the Champaign Farmers' Market (read more about how SNAP benefits work at the market here). We gave out more matching funds in one afternoon than we did in our entire first season (which was 26 afternoons).
Establishing a new farmers' market is not an easy endeavour, and your hopes can get crushed from time to time, so to see a major part of the market take off in such a way is truly exciting. Particularly when it comes to a program that's helping people afford good food. From a market manager's perspective, what more beautiful sight is there a good hour before closing than sparse tables that didn't start out that way...
And this success is not an isolated phenomenon. Across the country, investment in SNAP incentive programs is not just changing buying and eating habits among low-income shoppers, it's providing a huge economic boost to local farmers. Last year, the Rochester Public Market in Rochester, NY sold over $1 million in SNAP tokens at their market. They've joined forces with four other farmers' markets in the city to make it possible for SNAP recipients to use their benefits at all five markets. The farmers feel the impact, noting "We're increasing our sales, which helps the bottom line, and makes it vibrant for us all year long."
In just 8 years, the Forsyth Farmers Market in Savannah, GA went from around $1,000 in SNAP sales to $31,000, thanks to incentive matching programs supported by Wholesome Wave (which actually means $62,000 in SNAP sales with the doubling program). I've written before about how much Illinois has benefitted from SNAP accessibility at farmers' markets, but to see it in action (and to see it growing so fast) at our very own farmers' market has been a real thrill.
We've already given out nearly $2,000 in matching funds this season, and we're only 5 weeks in. Vendors have noted a marked increase in sales, and we have spoken with dozens of happy customers. We had shoppers drive over to the Market from Decatur, Danville, and Fairbury specifically for this promotion. We've already seen the program bring 30 new customers to the Market in just 5 weeks, which might not sound like a lot, until you compare it to the number of new customers the incentive program brought to the Market all of last year: 47 (and that was already a 50% increase over 2015). It's been an incredibly encouraging first month of the season, and thanks to the generous support of the Link UP Illinois program, who funds incentive programs all around the state, we are looking at a very bright farmers' market season this year.
This is precisely what food stamps were first conceived for: connecting farmers who had food they couldn't sell with people who couldn't afford to buy it. Everyone benefits from this scenario, not just the buyers and the sellers, but our local economy and our community on the whole. So please help us continue to spread the word about SNAP incentive programs at the Champaign Farmers' Market, Urbana's Market at the Square, and markets all around the state: