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Faith in Place recently secured a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to operate winter farmers markets.

Faith in Place recently secured a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to operate winter farmers markets.

For 18 years, Tony Ends of Scotch Hill Farm worked hard to develop direct marketing opportunities for his family’s crops and products. For over six of those years, he advocated for other small farms in winter markets that he organized with Wisconsin, Illinois and Iowa churches. Trends in farming and the recent recession, which spurred a decline in attendance at some markets, have taken a negative toll on some farm families in the upper Midwest, but Tony hasn’t lost faith.

In fact, he still attends the winter markets, where Faith in Place continues the work he began. Faith in Place is an ecumenical non-profit located in Chicago. It recently secured a USDA Farmers Market Promotion Program grant to pick up the winter markets and the work Tony first developed in 2003. This winter, 17 churches in northern Illinois are taking turns hosting the winter markets with Faith in Place. While no longer active in organizing the farmers’ markets, Tony still participates regularly.

“Winter markets give me an opportunity to meet prospective new CSA [Community Supported Agriculture] members who can buy a whole array of vegetables from my family during the warm season,” Tony says. “They also give me a chance to sell the winter greens and cool season crops we grow in high tunnel greenhouses. Without this opportunity to sign up new CSA members and generate income during the cold weather months, it would be very hard for me to meet farm expenses over winter.”

Faith in Place has already put EBT machines in place to accept vouchers from USDA’s SNAP program at all their markets. This makes it easier for low-income families to participate. Over the next two years, Faith in Place aims for a 15% increase in market attendance and in revenues for participating producers.

Faith in Place will also use the grant money to develop new winter markets, particularly in low-income areas where residents normally do not have access to fresh produce of any kind, not to mention produce directly from the farm.

Though seemingly modest in scope, winter farmers’ markets make a difference for some participating producers between closing down operations or surviving the winter months with some income. Additionally, through the Faith in Place program, market farmers donate 10% of every dollar earned over $150 to the “Farm Crisis Fund” to help farm families through tough times.

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