CARBONDALE, Ill. — Some consumers who purchase food grown
locally are letting their neighbors know through a new program aimed at raising
awareness of the practice.
The Plant A Carrot program, which began on the East Coast,
has been embraced by the Carbondale Community Farmers Market, one of about 30
nationwide involved in a pilot project. Nearby Carterville’s Cannon Park
Community Market also is participating.
Consumers may purchase driveway markers shaped like carrots
at the markets and at participating grocery stores that sell locally grown
foods. By displaying the carrots, residents help spread the word about local
foods, according to Angie Kuehl, the manager of the Carbondale market.
“They were designed by a market volunteer who came up with
the idea,” Kuehl said. “It’s not only a fund-raising campaign, but a grassroots
marketing campaign. When these things are popping up around town, the neighbors
are asking, ‘what are those things?’ And people tell them that they are there to
support local food and local farmers markets.”
The carrot markers are made in America by a home-based
family business from plastic and recyclable steel. They sell for $5 each or
three for $12, and serve a dual purpose. Besides generating interest in local
foods, they also help raise money for the farmers markets.
The recently established Carbondale Community Farmers Market
— one of two in the city — is the first in the region to operate year-round.
Kuehl said the market, which is located on the high school
campus on the east side of town, averages 12 to 15 vendors weekly. Twelve have
signed up for the winter months.
Kuehl hopes the Plant A Carrot sales will help fund expenses
associated with accepting Link cards, used by participants of the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly referred to as the food stamp
SNAP, which represents a large portion of the farm bill,
provides qualifying low-income households with credit-type Link cards that may
be used to purchase food at stores. The Carbondale farmers market has applied to
the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which operates the SNAP program, for a
license so that the Link cards may be used at the farmers market.
Kuehl said that once the market is granted the license, it
would seek to cover the cost of using Link cards. Instead of each vendor being
required to acquire a license and pay the cost of transactions, the farmers
market would do that.
Buyers wanting to use Link cards at the market would
purchase tokens that they would then be able to use to purchase goods from
individual vendors. The vendors would later turn them in and receive
“Our goal is that there is enough community support about
what we’re trying to do in terms of making sure everybody in the community can
access directly from the farmer,” Kuehl said. “Link folks can go to retail
grocery stores that do sell local food. But if the market doesn’t accept it they
can’t buy directly from the farmer. We really want to have that opportunity that
everybody can get what they want direct from the farmer.”