Aurora receives grant for farmers market
Aurora Farmers Market, which begins its 105th season this year, has received a $25,000 grant to make fresh, local food more affordable to low-income families in the city.
The Aurora City Council voted to accept the grant from the Wholesome Wave National Nutrition Incentive Network.
The grant will go toward helping families have access to fresh produce, said Dale Hazelwood, manager of Aurora's market.
"Aurora's Farmers Market is very honored to have received this important grant," Hazelwood said. "We are working to improve the health of Aurorans by providing greater access to fresh, healthy, locally produced fruits and vegetables.
"As Illinois' oldest market, we try to be innovative in our programs and to lead the way to a healthy and vibrant community."
Aurora's market was chosen to receive the largest amount of funding available, according to John Russell, the city's grant writer.
Wholesome Wave received more than 100 applications nationwide, and awarded nine grants, he said. This is the first time the city has applied for the grant.
There are several components to the grant, including "prescriptions" for Aurora Area Interfaith Food Pantry families to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables from the market.
In fact, of the $25,000 grant award, $20,000 will go directly to families. The grant includes $2,400 to hire two college nutrition students to conduct nutrition education programs at the market, and $2,000 for printing "prescription" vouchers, recipes and promotional materials in English and Spanish.
Russell said the food pantry will hand out $10 vouchers weekly to about 100 families at the pantry. The 20-week market season begins in June.
The grant also includes $600 for a food pantry staff member or volunteer to bring a truck to the market to pick up fruits and vegetables not sold that day by farm vendors who want to take part in the "gleaning" aspect of the program. The food pantry has a refrigerator/freezer where the food can be stored safely, Russell said.
"Wholesome Wave is a national foundation that promotes healthier eating for America's most needy families. And Aurora's Farmers Market has that same goal," Russell said.
About 14 percent of Aurora's residents are considered low-income and are eligible for the federal SNAP food stamp program. But the number of families taking advantage of the incentive programs for receiving free, fresh fruits and vegetables at the Farmers Market is much less than that 14 percent figure.
"The Wholesome Wave grant will allow Food Pantry families to receive the Farmers Market $10 prescription vouchers right at the pantry," Russell said. "We are hoping this will serve as an incentive for these families to visit the market, where those who are food stamp recipients also will be able to take advantage of the Market's Double-Value program to receive $25 worth of fruits and vegetables for every $25 in purchases they make with food stamps."
Russell said about 80 vendors were at the Saturday Market at the downtown Aurora Transportation Center each week in 2016, with a dozen specifically providing locally grown fruits and vegetables. An estimated 80,000 people attended the Farmers Market in 2016.
The market partners with VNA Health Care, the University of Illinois Extension Service and other local nonprofit agencies to offer nutrition information and healthy recipes, samples of fresh fruits and vegetables and cooking demonstrations featuring produce sold by local farmers at the market that week.