News“Everyone Is Welcome”: How Illinois Farmers’ Markets Took Up the Fight for Food Access

Posted Dec 13, 2022

Access to good food is a right, not a privilege. At Green City Market, we're dedicated to making that right a reality for all Chicagoans. 

1 in 7 people in Chicago regularly struggle to access nutritious food — we're working to make sure that great, locally- and sustainably-sourced food is available and accessible to all, no matter where you live or what you make.

When you donate to Green City Market, you’re making it possible for people facing food insecurity to access fresh farmers’ market food and supplying food banks with food purchased directly from local, sustainable farmers.

Your donation today will provide Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP a.k.a. Link or EBT) matching benefits through our flagship food access program, GCM For All. SNAP alone is often not enough for people facing hunger to make ends meet. Because of you, when shoppers use $25 of SNAP benefits at GCM, they receive an extra $50 to make their benefits go further.

Please, donate today to provide urgent nutrition assistance to neighbors in need this winter.


Used to thinking the farmers’ market is only for a privileged few? Think again! We spoke with Janie Maxwell, Executive Director of the Illinois Farmers Market Association, about how farmers’ markets have become key advocates in the pursuit of equitable food access.

GCM: In 2020, farmers’ markets processed a whopping $33 million in SNAP benefits, and the SNAP redemption rate at farmers’ markets nearly doubled from 2013 to 2020, according to the USDA. At GCM, usage of our SNAP matching program, GCM For All, skyrocketed 4.6x since 2020, made possible by our community of donors. Why do you think that is? 

Here in Illinois we have worked really really hard to get the word out and encourage markets across the state to accept Link. Then, once they’re involved with Link, to enroll in the Link match program with LinkUp Illinois. And I think farmers’ markets have seen a tremendous increase because, during the pandemic, with the interruptions in the food supply and the supply chain, I think consumers were driven to farmers’ markets because they were sure of food being available and also the quality of what they were going to find, and it may have introduced farmers’ markets to a number of people who maybe previously weren’t shopping there. My hope is that it will continue.

One of the unfortunate things is the fact that there is more SNAP redemption because there are more households that are eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, during the pandemic and now on the other side. On one hand we’re glad that they’re using those benefit dollars at a farmers’ markets, we’re just concerned that there are so many more people that are eligible for the program.

GCM: Do you see farmers’ markets as growing in importance in hunger relief efforts? 

I really do. I see farmers’ markets as really key in hunger relief efforts, not only through Link and the Link match and some of these supplemental programs. Farmers’ markets [including many vendors at Green City Market] are also eligible to accept WIC and the Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, which are additional nutrition incentives that some of our consumers can use at a farmers’ market.

The other piece is that a lot of our farmers’ markets [in IL] have begun programs where they take excess product at the end of the day and make sure that it gets to a secondary market that is part of the food-insecure network. So that that product is utilized for its best income and feeding hungry people. 

We’re very excited to partner with Green City Market on the Farm to Food Bank program, where we’re encouraging growers to actually plan on bringing product to the market that maybe isn’t as pretty and perfect as what they might sell on a market day, but is certainly fine for use and finding them an opportunity to sell that product into the food-insecure network. It’s good for the farmer, we eliminate waste, and it’s also good to have really high quality products available for that food-insecure network. 

GCM: What’s been your impression of Green City Market’s development of our SNAP matching program this season? 

One of the things that I appreciate most about Green City Market is the efforts to make sure that all members of the community have access and are welcome. I do believe that that expanded access and welcome is partially because of the extensive Link and Link matching and private funding that Green City Market raises to make sure that our Link users get the most value for their Link dollar at the market. 

That is just so encouraging to me: that everyone is welcome. Green City Market does such an amazing job at signage and explanations so that, as a Link user, it’s simplified, it’s easy to use, the vendors understand it, the market managers understand it, and that makes it a more seamless process for the Link user. I just really appreciate the effort that Green City Market has put into that because it may be a complicated program, but Green City Market has made it as simple as possible.

Again, not only does Green City Market accept Link, but they’re a part of the Link match program so that the program matches dollar-for-dollar for fruit and vegetable purchases at the market. And then, in addition, Green City Market has some private funding that can be used on other than fruit and vegetable purchases as well. That really expands the impact of a Link shopper’s dollar. It’s great for the health of the community, the health of the consumer, and it’s really great for our farmers too, because it allows them to generate more revenue.

PS: Passionate about increasing food access in Chicago? Now's the best time to donate! We're pleased to announce that an anonymous donor has joined our friends at the Alvin H. Baum Family Fund to pledge to match all your donations now through December 31, $1 for $1, now up to $55,000.