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Lt. Governor Simon awards grant to Weiss for the Uptown Farmers Market

Sheila Somon at Farmers Market at Weiss Pledging to connect low-income residents with healthy food options, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon presented a grant to Weiss Memorial Hospital for the Uptown Farmers Market, and dedicated a wireless machine that accepts Link, debit and credit cards.

Uptown is one of up to 50 farmers’ markets selected this summer by the state for the Illinois Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Wireless Project. The project reimburses markets up to $1,200 for wireless “card-swiping” machines so residents can purchase healthy, locally grown foods using their Link cards. Link cards are loaded with Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits formerly known as food stamps.

The federally funded project is expected to double the number of farmer’s markets in Illinois that accept Link, making nearly one-third of farmers’ markets statewide accessible to low-income residents by the end of 2012. A total of 49 SNAP-certified farmers’ markets and direct-marketing farmers accepted Link cards in 2011, up from 15 in 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon presents Weiss with a check.

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon presents a grant to Weiss Memorial Hospital for the Uptown Farmers Market.

“One in seven Illinois residents receive food stamp benefits, and nearly all of those dollars are spent on foods imported to Illinois,” said Simon, who chairs the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council. “Increasing access to locally grown foods means stronger local economies in addition to healthier communities. I am happy to recognize and support the food connections being made here at the Uptown Farmers Market and show what is possible when a community is integrated into the operation of a farmers’ market.”

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon at Weiss' Farmers' Market

Lt. Governor Sheila Simon visits the Farmers' Market at Weiss.

The Uptown Farmers Market is open on Thursdays between June 21 and October 25 from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. It features between eight and 10 vendors throughout the season and hosts a variety of events including free health screenings and cooking demonstrations. Nearly one-third of weekly sales at the market are from Link users, according to market manager Terry Tuohy.

In its third year of operation, the Uptown Farmers Market and helps serve the nearly 10,000 households that receive SNAP benefits in the neighborhood, Tuohy said. The Rooftop Farm that Weiss also maintains sits atop the parking garage. It features 20 planter boxes and 15 raised beds containing seasonal fruits and vegetables such as tomatoes, kale and basil.

Volunteers at Weiss man the Rooftop Farm

Volunteers man the impressive Rooftop Farm at Weiss.

“We are honored to be the first farmers' market in the state to receive this grant money,” said Weiss CEO Jeffrey Steinberg. “It will help us to invest even more into this growing effort that’s benefiting our neighbors and employees in a healthy way.”

Funding for the LINK program comes from USDA and is part of a $4 million nationwide effort to increase SNAP use at farmers’ markets. Before seeking reimbursement, participating markets must be certified to accept SNAP benefits by the USDA Food and Nutrition Services and sign a contract with the Illinois Department of Agriculture that requires disclosure of sales data, use of the wireless machine on all market days, and participation in required trainings that are being held this week across the state.

Applications for the program are still being accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. To apply or learn more about the program, visit www.ltgov.illinois.gov.

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