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Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Every year, Illinoisans all over the state take advantage of farmers' markets for local, fresh, in-season produce. In fact, Illinois is ranked #3 in the nation for having the highest number of farmers' markets. Farmers' markets are a great place to enjoy the outdoors while shopping for good deals on local fruits, vegetables, and other specialty items like fresh bread, cheeses, cakes, and jam. It's also a great way to spend active leisure time with family and children, as there is often entertainment and sometimes kid-friendly activities.
It's not a secret that many people think farmers' markets are too expensive or more expensive than their grocery store. Sometimes, that is definitely true. Local food and food products found at farmers' markets are made by your fellow Illinoisans, and the cost of their food production isn't subsidized by the government or large-scale companies. Plus, these local farmers and sellers often do not have a large customer base. Therefore, the cost of their food and food products will, at times, be higher than the commercial products you can find in a store.
However, you might be surprised that when certain foods are in season, the products - especially the fresh fruits and vegetables - at the markets are equal to or less than the prices at the grocery stores. This is because there is more food available, and the cost of transporting the food is lower because it is local. During this time, try shopping at your local farmers' market and seeing what deals you can find - you might just discover something new! To find a farmers' market near you, visit the Illinois - Where Fresh Is website and enter your zip code or address & city.
In addition, if you receive SNAP benefits or WIC/Senior Farmers' Market Nutrition Program vouchers, you can use those benefits at the farmers' markets, if the markets accept those forms of payment. WIC/Senior vouchers can apply to fresh fruits and vegetables, fresh herbs, and honey (seniors only). Each vendor or booth has to apply to accept the WIC/Senior vouchers, and if they do accept them, they should have a sign at their booth that shows you they will take your vouchers. SNAP participants can use their LINK card at participating farmers' markets to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, breads, meats, fish and poultry, dairy products, and seeds and food plants to grow food at home. Usually, there is a table at the entrance to the market where you can swipe your LINK card for whatever amount of money you would like to spend. In exchange, you will receive tokens or coupons for that amount of money so you can pay the sellers while you're shopping. This is because most farmers and sellers do not have the equipment to accept credit/debit cards at their booths. Also, certain markets participate in the LINK Up Illinois program, which doubles the value of LINK card purchases. For example, if you wanted to buy $5 worth of food at the market with your LINK card, LINK Up would give you an extra $5 for free, so you could spend a total of $10 at the market (but only spend $5 of your own money)! To find out which farmers' markets in Illinois accept SNAP benefits (LINK cards), click here.
Here are some money-saving tips to use the next time you're at the market:
- Buy fresh produce when it is in season: Fruits and vegetables grow better at different times of the year. When they are at their peak growth, there will be more available, and their prices will be lower. If you would like to know what's in season in Illinois, check out this chart created by the University of Illinois Extension.
- Walk around the entire market and compare prices: Prices may be different at each booth, and multiple vendors may sell the same items. For example, there may be five booths selling apples. Talking a walk around the whole market before you buy will let you see which vender's apples are the cheapest.
- Look for marked down or "on sale" produce: Often, sellers will reduce the price of produce because it isn't the prettiest (discoloration, soft spots, etc.) or because it is very ripe. There is nothing wrong with those items, so take advantage of their lower price!
- Be flexible: You might find the lowest prices on things you've never eaten before or that you don't know how to cook. Feel free to ask the farmer or seller what the food tastes like and how to cook it. They will be happy to talk to you about their food, and you will be happy you saved some money.
Wishing you the best of health,
Extension Educator, INEP
Quick & Easy Peach Crisp (Servings: 2)
Peaches start their season in June, so keep this recipe in mind during farmers' market season!
- 1 tbsp. butter
- 2 tbsp. brown sugar
- ½ tsp. cinnamon
- 2 peaches, washed and sliced (with or without peel)
- ½ cup old-fashioned oats, or granola
- Place 1 tbsp. butter, ½ tsp. cinnamon, and 2 tbsp. brown sugar into a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave on high for 10-20 seconds, or until the butter melts. Stir the butter-sugar mixture until well mixed.
- Take half of this mixture and pour it over the sliced peaches. Microwave uncovered on high for 1 minute.
- Take the other half of the mixture and add the ½ cup of old-fashioned oats, or granola. Stir until oats are coated.
- Sprinkle the oat mixture on top of the warm peaches. Microwave on high for 1-2 minutes.
- Farmers Markets, Illinois Department of Agriculture,http://www.agr.state.il.us/markets/farmers/
- Buy Illinois Challenge, Illinois Department of Agriculture,http://www.agr.state.il.us/marketing/ilprod/
- Eligible Food Items, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), http://www.fns.usda.gov/snap/eligible-food-items