By Sean Boswell & Allison Preston
Residents living in Chicago’s food deserts will finally receive relief through five new farmers markets opening around the city.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday, April 26, that the new markets will be located in areas that have little to no food resources for residents, helping nearly 400,000 Chicagoans living in these food deserts to have access to fresh produce and healthy food options for the first time.
Each will be located near public transportation to attract more visitors, making it a convenient source for Chicagoans living in food deserts to start living healthier lifestyles.
“We are providing healthy options for people whose neighborhoods are undeserved by traditional grocery stores, and at the same time, providing information on nutrition and cooking with healthy foods,” said Mayor Emanuel in his press release.
Most importantly, customers on food stamps will be able to use their LINK card at all five new locations, and registration the food stamp cards will be offered at the sites for families and residents in need.
The LINK program has already proven to be beneficial for farmers and sellers at markets already established around the city, allowing them to accommodate and sell to larger numbers of customers that would not be able to afford food otherwise.
River Valley Ranch of Burlington, Wisconsin, sells four to five days a week at over 25 markets in the Chicago area, including locations in food deserts to help residents in the community. The company firmly believes in using the LINK system to help customers from low-income households.
“We do the one on 61st at the Experimental Station,” said Tim, a worker for the company. “It’s awesome, they do a 25 dollar match on the Link card, and they can get Link Bucks and use them for purchasing things at the market. It definitely helps.”
Farmers and sellers using the LINK program in their stands have seen an increase in business, especially in food desert locations, yet not all markets have been successful.
In an incident two years ago at the South Shore market customers went to such lengths as calling the police to report how rotten the food being sold there was.
Farmers selling at the location knew the customers at markets in food deserts such as the South Shore market were desperate for any produce, therefore they would sell the produce that hadn’t been bought all week and was ready to expire.
“Things like that become the problem,” said Steve Freeman of Nichols Farm & Orchard in regards to the dishonest selling practices some farmers practice. “They are going to very poor neighborhoods and people are expecting lower prices, but they’re not bringing their best produce, and then that just discourages people from going to the markets altogether.”
Farmers also face difficulty with the schedules of various markets and are often forced to follow busy and inconvenient schedules in order to sell their produce and their products.
“I got up this morning your time at two-o’clock, and entered Chicago at four this morning ,” said Mick Whitehead, a farmer from Niles, Michigan. “We come here every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. They don’t want to drive up there and get it so we bring it here.”
Yet the overall benefits of providing healthy products outweigh the inconveniences, allowing stand-owners to share their goods with families and residents in need, and offering them a chance to start a healthy lifestyle.
Kraft Foods and the Safeway Foundation are each providing $75,000 for the next two years to pay for the five new markets, and several companies have also partnered with the city, providing funding to keep the farmers markets in business. The Chicago Botanic Garden, Fresh Moves, University of Illinois Extension, Growing Power, Kendall College, Parkways Foundation, Greater Chicago Food Depository, Washburne Culinary Institute, Illinois Farmer’s Market Network, Fresh Taste, and Experimental Station have all contributed donations to the five locations.
The farmers markets will also feature services to help residents maintain a healthier lifestyle by including on-site nutritionists, healthy cooking demonstrations and classes, as well as herb planting tutorials.
Grocery stores and pharmacy store owners also created a plan of action with Mayor Emanuel and have committed to opening 17 new stores in areas lacking resources to food and medical attention.
The new famers markets are all operated by the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events and will open mid-June.
Secret Servicemen, the Illinois National Guard, and the Chicago Police Department will be monitoring the city during the NATO Summit on May 20-21. Citizens of the Chicago area have been warned to take extra safety precautions, and many are using vacation days and sick days to avoid being in the city while the summit is going on. Are you worried for your safety, or is the city of Chicago simply taking extra precautions? Take the poll below and comment with your opinion on the matter.
Check out my Storify news on the 2012 NATO summit in Chicago
This map contains closings and postponements during the NATO summit. The Summit takes place from May 20-21, and will be held at the McCormick Place. Traffic is expected to be slow-going and public transportation officials are also preparing for delays.
Many schools, such as DePaul University and Columbia College Chicago, will be closed because of students.
Wachowski said that the university’s Public Safety department has been working closely with the Chicago Police Department to prepare for the summit scheduled for May 20-21 at the McCormick Place, yet details of what security measures will be taken are still unknown. The Secret Service and FBI will not release the secutiry plan until four weeks before the event.
Public Safety and Chicago Police will prepare in any way they can to ensure the safety of Chicago citizens and students until details of their role during the summit are known.
In Feb. DePaul University announced the closure of it’s Loop campus on May 18-21 due to the safety risk the summit may impose.
“The students come first, then the buildings and property,” he said.