LINK accepted here sign next to farm fresh produce
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Every year, Illinoisans all over the state take advantage of farmers markets for local, fresh, in-season produce. Illinois is ranked #3 in the nation for having the highest number of farmers' markets. Farmers markets are a great place to enjoy the outdoors while shopping for good deals on local fruit, vegetables, and other specialty items like fresh bread, local meats and cheese, baked goods, and jam. It's also a great way to spend active leisure time with family and friends, as there is often entertainment and sometimes kid-friendly activities.

It's not a secret that many people think farmers markets are expensive or more expensive than their favorite grocery store. Sometimes, that is true. However, local food and food products found at farmers' markets are made and produced by your fellow Illinoisans. The government or large-scale companies don't subsidize the cost of their food production. Plus, these local farmers and vendors often do not have a large customer base. Therefore, the cost of their food and food products will, at times, be higher than the commercial products you can find in a store.

However, you might be surprised that when certain foods are in season, the products - especially the fresh fruits and vegetables - at the markets are equal to or less than the prices at the grocery stores. This is because there is more food available, and the cost of transporting the food is lower because it is local. During this time, try shopping at your local farmers' market and seeing what deals you can find - you might just discover something new!

In addition, if you receive SNAP benefits or WIC/Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program vouchers, you can use those benefits at the farmers' markets if the markets accept them. WIC/Senior vouchers can be applied to fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, and honey (seniors only). SNAP participants can use their LINK card at participating farmers' markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, bread, meats, fish and poultry, dairy products, and seeds and food plants to grow food at home.

Also, certain markets participate in the LINK Up Illinois program, which doubles the value of LINK card purchases. For example, if you wanted to buy $5 worth of food at the market with your LINK card, LINK Up would give you an extra $5 for free so that you could spend a total of $10 at the market! Visit the IL Department of Health and Human Services website to learn more- Farmers Markets that Accept the Illinois LINK Card.

Here are some money-saving tips to use the next time you're at the market:

  • Buy fresh produce when it is in season: Fruits and vegetables grow better at different times of the year. When they are at their peak growth, there will be more available, and their prices will be lower. If you would like to know what's in season in Illinois, check out this What's in Season chart.
  • Walk around the entire market and compare prices: Prices may differ at each booth, and multiple vendors may sell the same items. For example, there may be five booths selling apples. Taking a walk around the whole market before you buy will let you see which vendor's apples are the cheapest and look the best.
  • Look for marked down or "on-sale" produce: Often, vendors will reduce the price of produce because it isn't the prettiest (discoloration, soft spots, etc.) or because it is very ripe. There is nothing wrong with those items, so take advantage of their lower price!
  • Be flexible: You might find the lowest prices on things you've never eaten before or that you don't know how to cook. Feel free to ask the farmer or seller what the food tastes like and how to cook it. They will be happy to talk to you about their food, and you will be glad you saved some money.

Quick & Easy Peach Crisp (Servings: 2)

Peaches start their season in June, so keep this recipe in mind during farmers' market season!

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar
  • ½ tsp. cinnamon
  • 2 peaches, washed and sliced (with or without peel)
  • ½ cup old-fashioned oats, or granola

Instructions:

  1. Place 1 tbsp. butter, ½ tsp. cinnamon, and 2 tbsp. brown sugar into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 10-20 seconds, or until the butter melts. Stir the butter-sugar mixture until well mixed.
  2. Take half of this mixture and pour it over the sliced peaches. Microwave uncovered on high for 1 minute.
  3. Take the other half of the mixture and add ½ cup of old-fashioned oats or granola. Stir until oats are coated.
  4. Sprinkle the oat mixture on top of the warm peaches. Microwave on high for 1-2 minutes.

Resources:

  1. Farmers Markets- Illinois Department of Agriculture
  2. Find Food IL Map- Use the Find Food IL map to find places that are offering free food or meals in your community. You can also locate stores and markets that accept SNAP/LINK or WIC coupons. Plus, see the DHS or WIC office nearest to you.
  3. How can I use SNAP benefits? Eligible food items under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

This post was originally written by Whitney Ajie, MS, and updated by Kristin Bogdonas, nutrition and wellness educator, serving Henry, Mercer, Rock Island and Stark counties.