Farmer’s market takes Link, helps families buy local

Thousands of families turn to food assistance programs to help beat hunger at homes. Now, there’s a new option to get fresh produce locally through an area farmers market.

One mom says using her Link card at the market is changing her family for the better.

Every week, like clockwork, Kierstin Lipe and her daughter Louella hit the farmer’s market to do their weekly shopping. They know what the routine is at some spots, but at others you’ll hear Lipe check with vendors.

“Do you guys take the market tokens?” Lipe asked a vendor, shopping for vegetables for her family.

“Yes, we do,” he replied.

“Ok,” she said, debating between tomatoes and the fresh vegetables sitting on the table. She and Louella shop at the market using Link, buying the meat and produce they need with tokens. She says without the program, she used to come and maybe have a coffee, but now she can do all her grocery shopping there.

"Let me make sure I have enough," she asked a vendor, checking the pile of tokens she’d withdrawn from her Link account. Going to school for botany, she and her husband qualify for about $300 in food assistance a month, mostly to help take care of Louella and the fresh food she needs. Lipe said shopping there helps keep her away from any junk or snack foods, and it keeps her excited to come back for the fresh fruit and baked goods Louella loves.

Market manager Ann Stahlheber said she sees a lot of hunger in the community and hopes more people and families take advantage of using Link at the farmer’s market. She said only a handful of families are using Link so far – but she said this is the first year they’ve offered the program in Carbondale and so far it’s been going smoothly for those who are using it.

"We’re all excited about it, I think maybe wishing we’d started it sooner," Stahlheber said.

Lipe said she’s gotten used to needing the food assistance over the past year, but she said she still feels the stigma of being a “food stamp user” sometimes.

"I am often insecure, always insecure when using it. I feel very judged," she said.

She said being able to use Link at the farmer’s market is changing how she and her family shop for groceries. She says it’s easy to pick up the fresh fruits and veggies her family needs and know the money is going right back in to the community.

"You’re giving that money to your farmers, to your neighbors," Lipe said.

"We are going to be a great, healthy, strong family because of it," she said.

The Carbondale and Elkville farmer’s markets now accept Link, or SNAP as it’s known in other states, according to the Jackson County Health Department.

For more information on the program, visit the Illinois Department of Human Services website.

The Carbondale Farmer’s Market is open from 8 a.m. until noon on Saturdays across from the Murdale Shopping Center. Customer appreciation day will be held from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturday, July 16.

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