Eating healthy, locally grown food just got easier for low-income families in Chicago.
At least that will be the case at five city-run farmer's markets. Officials announced Monday that markets at Lincoln Square, South Shore Bank, Daley Plaza, Division Street and Beverly will start accepting LINK cards - the debit card used instead of food stamps – reports the Chicago Tribune.
The LINK program had come under some criticism because it was easier for families to get doughnuts and soda than zuccini and kale.
City officials say the farmer's market plan is a pilot program and will be run by a Woodlawn nonprofit, Experimental Station in partnership with the Chicago Department of Community Development and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services.
So far the program is getting high praise.
“Any initiative that makes fresh, healthy food more accessible to Chicagoans is certainly something we support,” said Chicago’s new health commissioner, Dr. Bechara Choucair in an email statement.
Farmers markets were slow to accept LINK cards because they didn’t have the system to process EBT, or electronic balance transfers. According to the Chicago Tribune, that obstacle was cleared in part by a $35,000 grant from the Department of Community Development. The money will pay for EBT machines, pay the transaction fees and hire en employee to work all five markets for the season.
First Lady and Chicago native Michelle Obama is a big supporter of having EBT machines at farmers markets. At a farmers market near the White House last summer, she applauded efforts to bring fresh produce to low-income shoppers who use LINK cards.
“If you know people who have access to these benefits, they should understand that these farmers markets are there for them as well,” said the First Lady. “We want to get that word out.”
The first market to accept LINK cards will be the one at Daley Plaza. It opens May 13th.