Downtown Market Goes for Tokens

Phoenix Park farmers market strives to benefit FoodShare patrons

Tyler Jennings Henderson, photos by Anna Mateffy

A BERRY GOOD IDEA. The Downtown Farmers Market Token Program aims to make produce more accessible.
A BERRY GOOD IDEA. The Downtown Farmers Market Token Program aims to make
produce more accessible.

On the heels of three successful summers of the Token Program, the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market is looking to bolster the benefits for FoodShare patrons in 2015.

In a detailed budget proposal addressed to the North Barstow/Medical Business Improvement District, the popular local food market is requesting $19,000 following a $2,500 donation from JAMF Software. The request is to provide an incentive program that would match FoodShare members’ token purchases, dollar for dollar, up to $10 per week. Essentially, $10 means $20 worth of farmers market food.

FoodShare, formerly known as Food Stamps, is a state program that helps low-income people buy nutritious food.

Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market manager Deidra Barrickman cited an increase each year in token sales, going from $4,000 of tokens sold in 2012 to roughly $15,000 during the 2014 season.

“There are a lot of dollars being spent at the market that were not being spent previously,” she said. “We think this would be a wonderful thing for our FoodShare customers.”

The Token Program uses a point-of-sale machine at the market that allows patrons to purchase tokens with either cash or a credit/debit card, although cards have a $1 fee that goes toward program transaction costs. Tokens are used like cash at the market, and vendors cash in their tokens at the end of each day.

Chris Kees-Winkler of Wheatfield Hill Organics has found the Token Program to be valuable in previous years.

“We see the token program as a huge plus,” she said. “It really allows some of the customers who otherwise would not have had an opportunity to shop at market.”

She said the ease of business helps not only customers, but the vendors as well. “It just increases the customers,” she said. “There’s no burden put on the vendors. It’s a win win.”

The budget request goes on to talk about the benefits of an incentive program, pointing to success stories in La Crosse and Madison, as well as a Michigan statewide program called Double Up Food Bucks, giving patrons “hundreds of thousands of dollars” toward their local markets.

With this program being something that is “near and dear to her heart,” Barrickman hopes to see a positive reaction from the community in support of the proposal.

“I really believe in this, a lot,” she said. “Feeding people is the priority, and hopefully this can help some people out.”

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