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Alumna leads initiative to help food-insecure population eat local

| Alison Wagener

This summer, those receiving assistance from FoodShare in the Eau Claire community will find it much easier to eat local thanks to Market Match, a program developed by UW-Eau Claire alumna Kate Beaton.

Beaton, who graduated in 2014 with a major in social work, created the incentive program in coordination with the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market and Eau Claire County UW-Extension. Market Match matches up to $10 spent in FoodShare tokens per person per week, giving each shopper up to an additional $10 per week. 

The matching funds for the Market Match program are provided by JAMF Software and the North Barstow/Medical Business Improvement District. The program also has been funded by a grant from UW-Extension as well as several personal donations.

For taking a leadership role in creating change in her community, Beaton recently was awarded the Jack Keating Student Civic Leadership Award by Wisconsin Campus Compact (WiCC). The award is given each year to a student who has expanded their educational experience outside of the bounds of their campus while demonstrating measurable community impact.

"Receiving the award was certainly a great feeling," Beaton said. "It really helped me to reflect on who helped me get to where I am. I have a lot of people to thank for helping me to achieve what I have and for shaping me into the person I am."

Currently, Beaton works as an AmeriCorps VISTA member in the horticulture education program of Eau Claire County UW-Extension. Her position allows her to work on programs like Market Match and other initiatives that focus on expanding the Eau Claire local food system for the community, especially those in poverty.

Beaton first researched community health incentive programs in a social work policy class during her junior year at UW-Eau Claire. After the class ended, she all but moved on from the idea. 

"When it came time to find an internship to complete the requirements of my social work degree, one of my professors gave me the opportunity to craft my own internship that integrated my interest in the environment as well as society," Beaton said. "I thought back to this project from my junior year and thought, 'Why can't I be the one to make this a reality?'" 

And so, Beaton began to work on the project in the fall of 2014 as an intern for UW-Eau Claire civic engagement organization Progressive Students and Alumni. She has since committed herself to the program, identifying community partners, fundraising and building the framework necessary for it to succeed. 

Beaton explained that the Market Match incentive program is beneficial for not only those who participate in the FoodShare program, but the Eau Claire community at large. She offered the following reasons why: 

Many Eau Claire residents suffer from food insecurity. 

"Food insecurity is well hidden in Eau Claire, and although we don't always notice, one out of eight adults and one out of five children in Eau Claire County are food insecure. Market Match is part of a larger, growing movement in Eau Claire and around the country to address food insecurity in new, creative ways."

Healthy food is expensive.

"Market Match makes local food more affordable, giving more people the option to lead a more nutritious and healthy lifestyle."

The program is profitable. 

"Market Match increases revenue for local farmers and enhances the local economy overall."

It makes everyone feel welcome at the farmers market. 

"The program makes the Eau Claire Downtown Farmers Market a more inclusive space because it breaks down income barriers. Now, everyone can participate together at the market. I think this diversity really strengthens our community." 

Eating local is good for the environment. 

"Market Match enhances the local food system, which is great for the environment. When food is produced locally and on a smaller scale, less fuel and water is consumed — and when food travels a shorter distance, less chemicals and packaging are required to keep food edible along the journey."

However, while Market Match is a step in the right direction for Eau Claire, the issue of food insecurity has much deeper roots, Beaton said. 

"We in the Eau Claire community, in the state of Wisconsin and in the United States need to decide that one hungry child out of five is unacceptable," Beaton said. "We need to decide that we as a society will do better for our neighbors, and we need to make it happen on a systemic level."