Urbana's Market at the Square helps provide healthy produce

By Allison McIlvain

Urbana’s Market at the Square has been working
to help low-income families gain access to its healthy produce this June.

Market at the Square is one of Illinois’s
largest farmer’s markets, carrying a diverse amount of products — from fruits
and vegetables to toffee. Vendors from around the Champaign-Urbana area gather
in the parking lot of Urbana’s Lincoln Square Mall every Saturday morning from
7 a.m. until noon.  

Now, with the help of monetary benefits and
educational programs, Market at the Square hopes everyone can afford to
have a meal at the table. 

“We’re hopeful that providing resources like
this, along with expanding payment options, will strengthen the Market’s role in
the local food system, economy and enhance the quality of life for the
residents in our community,” said Natalie Kenny Marquez, marketing
coordinator and director of Market at the Square.

Benefits from Supplemental Nutrition
Assistance Program (SNAP), a program that aids eligible low-income individuals
and families with purchasing food, have been accepted at the Market since 2010.

The Market is also working with the Illinois
Farmers Market Association (IFMA) to encourage more Illinois farmer’s markets
to implement their own SNAP/Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) programs.

“Offering programs like this at the farmer’s
market is just another way that we can expand access to fresh, locally-raised
produce, meat, dairy, honey and so much more,” Marquez said.

The Women, Infants and Children (WIC) office,
part of the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, also works with the Market
to educate WIC participants.

“(WIC and the Market) educate WIC participants
about which growers accept WIC benefits and how to use, store and preserve the
fresh produce they bought at the farmer’s market,” Marquez said.

The Lumpkin Family Foundation recently granted
funds to the IFMA to help increase WIC farmer’s market benefits in East Central
Illinois. Urbana’s Market at the Square will receive $1,000 as part of the
grant.

The Market is constantly looking for ways to
expand the program and make local and healthy produce available to everyone.

“It’s all about spreading the word and making
sure everyone knows that this program is available,” Marquez said.

[email protected]