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October 22, 2010

Green market on 61st gets greenbacks

The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) awarded the 61st Street Farmers’ Market a $61,000 federal grant last week for its efforts to provide fresh produce and healthy eating options.

The Market, located just south of the Midway between South Dorchester and Blackstone Avenues, has offered fresh, locally grown produce as an alternative to processed foods since its inception three years ago.

Some parts of Hyde Park and nearby neighborhoods have historically lacked such resources, according to the USDA, making them “food deserts,” areas without healthy, affordable food options.

The grant, one of 77 (worth a total of over $4 million) awarded last week as part of the USDA’s Farmers’ Market Promotion Program (FMPP), will support the 61st Street Farmers’ Market’s operations and expansion efforts.

FMPP aims to encourage the development of farmers’ markets and similar “direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunities” nationwide, according to a USDA press release.

“We are thrilled and honored to have received the FMPP grant and the recognition for our work from the USDA,” Farmers’ Market manager Dennis Ryan said in an e-mail. The Market is one of two organizations in Illinois to receive grant money.

The Market offers locally grown fruits and vegetables along with an array of meats, baked goods, cheese, and eggs. It was the first such establishment in Chicago to accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) dollars­—formerly known as food stamps—for purchases.

A 2006 study by the Mari Gallagher Research & Consulting Group first described parts of Hyde Park and the surrounding neighborhoods as food deserts, defined in the report as being “large geographic areas with no or distant grocery stores.”

The 61st Street Farmers’ Market aims to fill that gap, according to Ryan.

Along with bolstering its own operations, the 61st Street Farmers’ Market will devote some of the grant money to encouraging the growth of similar markets across the state through “training, consulting, [and] workshops,” Ryan wrote.

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