By TONIA HILL
The Experimental Station, 6100 S. Blackstone Ave., on Tuesday, announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded its Link Up Illinois program with a $487,000 Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) grant.
“Link Up Illinois is making an investment in the health and well-being of our state’s most vulnerable populations, potentially saving taxpayer money by reducing Medicaid costs down the road, while helping to rebuild Illinois’ food-producing, small farm economy,” said Experimental Station Executive Director, Connie Spreen in a written statement.
LINK up Illinois is a program that aims to provide farmers markets across the state with funding for Double Value Coupon incentive programs for Link Card (the state’s SNAP program) shoppers.
The Experimental Station piloted Illinois’ Double Value Coupon Program at its 61st Street Farmers Market in 2009.
The program doubles the value of Link purchases at the farmers market through matching coupons that can be redeemed at the market for Link eligible foods.
“SNAP shoppers receive a 1 – to –1 match for purchases of SNAP-approved produce, essentially doubling their buying power at participating farmers markets,” said Experimental Station in a written release. “While making the fresh and healthy foods sold at farmers markets more affordable for Illinois’ low-income population, Link Match also puts more dollars into the pockets of local farmers.”
Link Up Illinois has delivered funding, training and technical support to more than 90 Illinois farmers markets and market sites.
The FINI grant will expand the availability of SNAP nutrition to three South Suburban Chicago community health clinics, two Illinois food cooperatives, and an additional 20 state farmers markets.
Link Up Illinois under the FINI project will work alongside the Cook County Health and Hospitals System (CCHHS) to expand Link Match to three CCHHS health clinics in the Chicago’s southern suburbs.
Additionally, the organization will partner with the Neighborhood Co-op Grocery (Carbondale, Ill.) and Green Top Grocery (Bloomington, Ill.), two food cooperatives and they will pilot the use of Link Match in a retail setting.
The FINI grant builds on a $250,000 Farmers Market SNAP Support grant that was awarded to Experimental Station by the USDA to expand the acceptance and usage of SNAP benefits at state farmers markets.
“We are excited, with this new FINI award, to continue our partnership with the USDA to deepen this investment, from which we have already seen so many positive returns,” Spreen said in a written statement.