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The Amount of Money Spent on Food Assistance at Illinois Farmer’s Markets Has Been Rising

If people had easier access to locally grown produce, they would buy more food.

When she made the decision to allow people to use their federal food assistance to buy fruits and vegetables from vendors at the DeKalb Farmers Market, the manager of the market, Virginia Filicetti, used this line of reasoning.

Under LINK, which is Illinois’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the market was granted permission to do so (SNAP).

In a recent interview with FarmWeek, Filicetti stated that the majority of the market’s customers are LINK members, which serves as a significant motivational factor for both the market and its vendors.

The phrase “Vendors get LINK customers, and customers get fresh vegetables and fruit from local farmers” is a win-win situation for everyone involved.


The market that takes place every Thursday is the only one in DeKalb County that accepts LINK dollars and provides a matching donation through the LINK Up Illinois program.

LINK cardholders who make a purchase of $25 or more at a local farmer’s market are eligible to receive a matching gift of $25 that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables at the market.

The program is so well-liked that on the very first day of the 2022 season, the market was completely out of vouchers for the supplementary advantages. In addition to that, it is well-liked by vendors.

According to Filicetti, “It’s an incentive for vendors to come back each year — a big chunk of their revenue from the market comes from LINK spending,” and he pointed out that the average amount of LINK dollars spent each week at the market totals approximately $400.

The events that took place in DeKalb largely conform to a pattern that can be seen across the state.

FarmWeek conducted an analysis of data provided by the USDA Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) and discovered that since the policy’s inception nearly 15 years ago, both the number of farmers in Illinois who engage in direct marketing and the number of farmers’ markets that accept LINK has significantly increased.

The amount of money spent by people receiving LINK benefits on food that is purchased directly from farmers or at markets run by farmers has also increased.

In the 2010 fiscal year, which was the first full market season during which vendors could accept LINK dollars, just over $41,000 in benefits were redeemed at 22 markets across the state of Illinois. This accounted for 0.14 per cent of the total $2.78 million in benefits that were redeemed.

By the end of the fiscal year 2020, more than $371,000 in benefits had been spent at 94 different farmers’ markets across the state of Illinois. This figure represents 1.1 per cent of the total $3.37 million in benefits that had been redeemed.

According to Janie Maxwell, executive director of the Illinois Farmers Market Association, who spoke to FarmWeek about the association’s benefits, “it has huge economic and health benefits to the community.”

According to Maxwell, “(Using LINK at farmers markets) means a regular stream of income to a farmer who is selling their goods at the market, increased sales, and a larger customer base that can utilize the farmers market and bring them more profits.”

According to Maxwell, approximately $1.71 is re-invested back into the community that is hosting the farmers market for every dollar worth of LINK benefits that are redeemed at the market.

“That’s a huge deal,” Maxwell remarked afterwards. You could go to a nearby big-box store if you’re a LINK user, but doing so would still be supporting a large corporation. You are giving a helping hand to a regional producer by purchasing their wares here.

How farmer’s markets administer LINK

The guidelines for spending LINK dollars at farmer’s markets or engaging in a direct sale with a farmer, such as at a roadside produce stand, are straightforward and easy to understand: The money can be used to purchase almost any fresh food item, except hot meals that are already prepared and ready to go.

However, the policy becomes more difficult to understand for the individual vendor or the market as a whole because they are required to use electronic benefits transfer (EBT) equipment for LINK transactions.

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According to Maxwell, the cost of purchasing EBT equipment has been a minor barrier that has prevented some markets or farmers from participating in the program. However, grants are available to offset some of the cost of purchasing this equipment.

The market organizers in DeKalb attempted to lessen the burden of the necessary equipment by instituting an EBT token system. According to this system, LINK customers charge their LINK card to receive dollar-equivalent tokens.

Customers hand the tokens over to the merchants, who are then reimbursed by market officials once they have been turned in.

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