Smile Politely

A step-by-step guide on how to use your p-ebt card at C-U’s farmers’ markets

If you have a child in the Champaign-Urbana public school system, you may remember receiving a p-ebt card earlier this year. Maybe you’ve already put it to good use. If you haven’t, consider redeeming it at the Champaign or Urbana farmers’ markets.

You’ll be able to pick up fresh produce, meats, dairy, honey, and bread for your family — and support farmers and artisans while doing it. Plus, from now till the end of the summer market season, you’ll get a triple-match for your money. I will show you how.

A stack of blue and white paper coupons in paper clips and two stacks of wooden tokens in rubber bands on a white(ish) plastic table. Photo by Tias Paul

Photo by Tias Paul.

Step 1: Activate your p-ebt card

Your p-ebt card came with a number to call to activate the card and set up a PIN. Call the number, activate the card, and remember your PIN. You’ll need the PIN to redeem the value of the card at the farmers’ markets.

Three people, two in blue shirts and one in a red shirt, standing behind a plastic foldout table with tokens, coupons, a notebook, and brochures. They are standing in front of a LINK & WIC banner under a blue tent. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Step 2: Redeem the value of your p-ebt card for tokens and USDA coupons at the Champaign and Urbana farmers’ markets

At the farmers’ market, walk over to the smiling people in front of the LINK & WIC banner. Present your p-ebt card to the person across the table, and let them know how much you would like to redeem from your card. They will scan the card and ask you to input your PIN.

Once the PIN has been accepted, you will receive a dollar-for-dollar match in tokens (coins wrapped in rubber bands) for the amount you redeemed. Plus, you will receive an equal value match up to $20 in USDA coupons (blue and white monopoly money-looking slips). If you redeem $20, you will receive 20 tokens and 20 USDA coupons. You could redeem the entire value of your card at once in tokens, but you’d probably miss out on the coupon match if you have a lot of money left on your card.

Bonus: the markets are currently running a triple-match promotion until the end of the summer market season which is October 30th. With this promotion, you will triple your redeemed value up to $20 with USDA coupons. If you redeem $20 off your p-ebt card, you will receive 20 tokens and 40 USDA vouchers for a total value of $60.

Light and dark green beans in brown paper bags with handles are in the center of the picture. To the left and right of them are bulk bins of green beans. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Step 3: Use the tokens and vouchers at the markets like dollar bills

Since the tokens and vouchers are each worth $1, using them to pay for items is no different than using dollar bills. The only difference is that you can’t make change, so if you are buying an item for say $3.50, you’ll have to pay the vendor four tokens or four vouchers (worth $4).

The tokens can be used for meats, breads, dairy, produce, and honey at the markets.

The USDA coupons can only be used for fresh produce. However, you can use the coupons at both the markets and the Common Ground Food Co-op for produce. You’ll probably want to use up the USDA coupons first because they expire at the end of the summer market season; the tokens do not expire. Your tokens and coupons are good at both the Champaign and Urbana farmers’ markets, so feel free to shop at whichever one is most convenient for you or both.

Green and purple peppers are in the foreground of the picture. Purple eggplants are directly behind them. There is a small

Photo by Tias Paul.

Step 4: Enjoy the bounty of the Central Illinois farming community

How much food can you buy for $20 off your p-ebt card? Quite a lot!

I shopped on a triple-match day at the Market in the Square in Urbana, so I received 20 tokens and 40 coupons for the $20 I redeemed. I spent all of my tokens and 30 of 40 coupons.

A white male shopper reaches for his wallet in his back pocket in front of the table for Moore Family Farm at the Urbana Market in the Square. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

With the price of beef being sky high, I decided to spend most of my tokens on two packages of beef kabobs (16 tokens) from Moore Family Farm.

Various breads sitting atop tables with blue and white checkered tablecloths. The tables are underneath blue and beige tents. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Next, having four tokens left, I lined up at the CI Bakehouse tent to pick up a raspberry cream danish (four tokens), still one of my favorite market treats.

Purple, orange, red, and yellow tomatoes in clear plastic trays on a white(ish) plastic table. Behind the table is a vendor loading red tomatoes into a white plastic bag. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Next, I hit up the produce tents to use up my USDA coupons. I picked up a pint of cherry tomatoes and a giant eggplant from Blue Moon Farm with nine coupons.

Red raspberries in clear plastic trays on a white(ish) table. Behind the raspberries is a black chalkboard sign with the price of the item. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Then, I stopped by the Meyer Produce tent for two pounds of green beans and a box of raspberries for ten coupons.

The top of the picture shows green leafy herbs in shallow plastic trays with water. The trays are on plastic foldout tables with laminated Green G Farms signs taped to the front listing items and prices. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

Finally, at the Green G Farms’ tables, I bought one bunch of Thai basil, a small watermelon, two pounds of bittermelon, and a pound of pickling cucumbers for a total of 11 vouchers.

n the forefront of the picture, we can see a plastic and brown paper package with a danish inside and a clear plastic carton with red raspberries. Behind these two items, are light green beans spilling out of a brown paper bag, pickling cucumbers, beef kabob meat in vacuum-seal packages, bittermelon, cherry tomatoes, green leafy Thai basil, a dark shiny eggplant, and a striped green watermelon. All the food sits atop a round white table. Photo by Tias Paul.

Photo by Tias Paul.

All in all, a mighty haul. So there you have it: a tableful of fresh Central Illinois foods courtesy of the p-ebt card and the triple-match promotion at the farmers’ market.

Final note: I learned that I can buy produce at the Champaign Farmers’ Market and leave it at the LINK/WIC tent to be donated directly to the Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. It’s another way to use up extra vouchers and serve the community. 

Urbana Market in the Square
401 S Vine St
Sa 7 a.m. to noon

Champaign Farmers’ Market
310 N Neil St
Tu 3 to 6 p.m.

Top image by Tias Paul.

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