SPRINGFIELD – An advocate for local foods, Lt. Governor Sheila Simon is urging local food producers to apply for a federal grant that promotes farmers markets.
The United States Department of Agriculture recently announced the availability of $10 million in competitive grants for FY 2012 through the Farmers Market Promotion Program (FMPP). Grants are targeted at projects that help improve and expand farmers markets, community supported agriculture and road-side stands. The deadline to apply for FMPP funding is May 21.
“I encourage Illinois’ local food producers to take advantage of this opportunity to grow and gain access to new markets,” said Simon, the only statewide elected official from Southern Illinois. “As a state we spend more than 95 percent of our food dollars on products grown outside of Illinois. Strengthening our local food system will keep dollars in our local communities and help grow our economy.”
Priority status will be granted to those projects that expand healthy food choices in food deserts or low-income areas where the percentage of the population living in poverty is 20 percent or above. Entities eligible to apply for grant funding include agricultural cooperatives, local governments and nonprofit corporations.
As chair of the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council Simon has advocated for expanded use of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits at farmers markets. SNAP sales at farmers markets totaled nearly $70,000 in 2011, an increase of over 522 percent since 2009. The number of farmers markets and direct-marketing farmers certified to accept the Link cards that access SNAP benefits has increased from 35 in 2009 to 49 in 2011.
“SNAP use at farmers markets benefits the health of SNAP recipients, local economies, and farmers,” said USDA Food and Nutrition Service Midwest Regional Administrator Ollice Holden. "These grants will put resources into rural and urban economies, and help strengthen efforts to provide access to nutritious and affordable food."
In 2011, four grants from the FMPP were awarded to organizations in Illinois: the Southern Illinois University Board of Trustees, Food Works of Carbondale and Chicago organizations, Growing Home Inc., and Faith in Place. The SIU board is using a $81,000 grant to establish the Illinois Farmers Market Association, which will provide professional development, resources and support for farmers, markets and community members, including a farmers market manager training manual and a statewide database to connect farmers to markets. The association expects to start accepting members in January 2013.
“The Illinois Farmers Market Association will help provide resources and solutions to the challenges markets face in administering federal nutrition programs such as SNAP, WIC and Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Programs,” said Pat Stieren, coordinator of the Illinois Farmers Market Association. “With over 20 percent of the population in Chicago living in ‘food deserts’ without access to fresh, healthy foods, and with 1 in 10 Illinoisans receiving SNAP benefits, creating a Farmers Market Association is a crucial step toward helping markets learn how to expand fresh food access and improving health outcomes while supporting local agriculture.”
For additional information on grant eligibility and how to apply, visit www.grants.gov.