By CINDY LADAGE
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Pat Stieren is executive director for the relatively new Illinois Farmer’s Market Assoc. (IFMA), a not-for-profit organization operating for its first two years under a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program Grant.
This grant was awarded to the Board of Trustees for Southern Illinois University, and Stieren was set up at the Illinois Specialty Crop Conference earlier this month to share information about the IFMA with producers attending.
The IFMA’s mission is: “To provide educational support for farmers’ market organizers, farmers, vendors and other community food and nutrition organizations through partnerships, resource-sharing and training on best management practices, operating procedures and state regulations through workshops, webinars and various social marketing venues.”
Stieren said farm markets are an increasingly popular way to sell produce and their numbers have been growing in leaps and bounds. “There are approximately 350 farm markets in Illinois,” she added.
One way to find markets in Illinois is to use the Illinois Farm Direct Farmer to Consumer Directory at www.illinoisfarmdirect.org/index.htm
This directory helps consumers find fresh, locally grown food by connecting them directly dealing with Illinois farmers. This is a program is sponsored by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences, Land Connection, Agroecology/Sustainable Agriculture Program and Slow Food.
According to Stieren, nationwide data from 1994-97 showed approximately 3,000 farm markets at that time. Today the number is closer to 7,000. She thinks this growth is in part because of the period of time when those enrolled in the Women, Infant and Children (WIC) and Senior Coupon programs were able to take advantage of farm markets.
The Illinois food stamp program used to be run as a coupon-based program, but today it is electronic. In Illinois it operates on the Link card, which accesses the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Farm market producers wanting to take advantage of enrollees purchasing items at their markets need a wireless electronic machine.
The IFMA announced the Illinois Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) Wireless Project is expanding and will allow access to fresh produce for low-income residents. This expansion is expected to boost sales of locally grown, healthy food by enabling farmers’ markets to accept Link cards.
The number of farm markets and direct-marketing farmers certified to accept SNAP has increased from 15 in 2009 to 49 in 2011. Grant funding will aid 29 farmers’ markets that have been selected to receive $1,200 grants from the Illinois EBT Wireless Project.
Something else the IFMA is offering is a chance for producers to learn about markets at the annual Illinois Farmers Market Conference, March 7-8 at the State House Inn in Springfield. This is the first time this conference has been offered, and is sponsored by the IFMA.
The two-day event will have three tracks: Beginning and Building a Farmers Market, Growing Vendors and Community Collaboration. For more information about the conference and the IFMA, log onto http://illinoisfarmers markets.wordpress.com or email Stieren at firstname.lastname@example.org