CHAMPAIGN – For many SNAP recipients, access to local produce can be cost-prohibitive if not outright unavailable, as local growers may not have the ability to accept Link cards, and purchasers may not be able to afford the produce out of pocket. The Land Connection strives to bridge this gap through their summer Farmers Market, held every Tuesday evening throughout the summer in downtown Champaign. In addition to serving the general public, they accept Link cards and offer bonuses to people who use their SNAP benefits to purchase fresh produce at the market.
Because of Land Connection’s commitment to SNAP recipients, this summer University of Illinois Extension’s SNAP-Ed Program, serving Champaign County, collaborated with the organization to teach attendees at the market what to do with their produce once they purchase it.
Caitlin Kownacki, Extension SNAP-Ed Educator in Champaign, helped establish the farmers market partnership. She expressed, “Since the market had already established a strong SNAP-incentive program, we saw it as a perfect match! We wanted a way to connect with attendees and provide additional nutrition education while also gathering information on recipes we could then share with local schools and early childhood centers to increase the variety of fruits and vegetables served to youth.”
Each week, Illinois Extension staff provide samples of recipes that use fresh, local foods found at the market. Staff then ask the people who taste-tested the recipes if they enjoyed them and whether or not they would like to see it served for lunch at their school or early childhood center. While the backgrounds of tasters has varied in age, ethnicity and gender, responses have been overwhelmingly positive—92% of testers have liked the recipes, and 77% want to see them served at schools.
Extension staff first started serving recipes in early June. In the three months that they have worked at the market, staff have talked to nearly 1,000 people and have demoed recipes including Apple Cucumber Salad, Mediterranean Quinoa Salad, Squash Casserole, Summer Vegetable Salsa, Spinach Salad with Strawberries, Whipped Sweet Potatoes and much more.
As an added benefit, many of the recipes use ingredients found at the market. Staff have partnered with Sola Gratia Farm, Harvest Table Foods, Meyer Produce, Havilah Gardens Microfarm, Three D Tomatoes, Grove Stone Olive Oil and Central Illinois Bakehouse to use their ingredients and then encouraged interested tasters to use their LINK dollars to reproduce the recipes at home.
Kownacki stated that all these organizations working together benefits the community as a whole, since, “We’re supporting people in our area to purchase healthy foods while also supporting the local economy and reducing the carbon footprint of shipping produce.” She sees the partnership as a net positive for everyone involved.
After the farmers market completes for the summer, Kownacki and her team plan to take the process one step further. They will share the data they collected on the recipes to make change in partnering schools throughout the area. All of the recipes came from the USDA School Meal Program or Farm to School Harvest of the Month Program. The well-received recipes will be used in ABCS of School Nutrition within the school year to create healthy meals for local schools and childcare programs.
“In the end, we really want to do all we can to establish healthy eating habits throughout all aspects of our community. That’s what SNAP Education and our programming is all about,” stated Kownacki.
SNAP-Ed staff will be at the Champaign Farmers Market through October 30. Visit their booth near the south end of the parking lot, across from the Land Connection tent.
University of Illinois Extension provides equal opportunities in programs and employment. If you need a reasonable accommodation to participate, please call the Extension Office.