DeKALB – Low-income residents could have access to more fresh, locally grown food this summer when the state offers free wireless machines that accept Link cards at farmers markets.
The DeKalb Farmers’ Market, which runs every Thursday from noon to 6 p.m. at Van Buer Plaza, may be the first local market to feature the machines, said Lindsey Engelsman of Re:New DeKalb. Engelsman said her organization has worked with the state over the past few years to increase options for residents with Link cards.
The program is possible because of a $180,000 grant from the U.S. Agriculture Department and is expected to operate at 150 markets.
Residents who have access to the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) can purchase produce, meat, dairy and baked goods at farmers markets with the Link card.
“This is a fantastic opportunity,” Engelsman said. “We’ve been working toward this for three years.”
In the program, Link card users may go to a central location in the market where they swipe their card for an allotted amount of tokens. The tokens are used to purchase a variety of food products from vendors, who would exchange the tokens at the end of the market for cash, Engelsman said. Some products, such as nonfood items and food prepared for on-site consumption, are not eligible.
The need for low-income family assistance has grown at farmers markets, Engelsman said, with recent federal numbers showing roughly 38,000 households receiving SNAP benefits in the 14th and 16th Congressional Districts combined.
To meet some of the demand, DeKalb’s market partnered with Kishwaukee Community Hospital last year and this year to offer a voucher program for low-income families, similar to the proposed Link card program.
The Kishwaukee Community Hospital voucher program is being used for the first time at the Sycamore Farmers Market. Rose Treml, executive director of the Sycamore Chamber of Commerce, said it has been a hit.
Treml said Sycamore will look into the state’s Link card program, but she believes the voucher program is meeting the demand.
“Our vendors are excited about it ... and I am happy that it is a local program,” Treml said of the Kishwaukee vouchers for fruit and vegetables.
Engelsman hopes to get the wireless machine by August if the market is approved. Markets have until July 9 to apply.
“We haven’t heard when it would start in the markets, but I know they are trying to move things quickly,” she said.
Residents also will be able to use debit or credit cards at the machine to receive tokens for purchasing items.
Genoa market directors still are looking into the program.