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Public Market to launch major campaign 

The Rochester Public Market will launch a major two-year community marketing effort next spring to spread awareness of its popular market tokens and expand the program.

Customers who receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program can use their debit-like benefit card to redeem small wooden coins that can be used to buy fresh produce and other foods from the market's vendors. Nearly all of the vendors accept the tokens, which come in $1 and $5 denominations.

The token program is also used by five other farmers' markets in or around the Rochester area, including the South Wedge and Westside markets. The Rochester Public Market partnered with the other markets to land a $178,902 federal grant for the marketing campaign, which may include billboards and bus wraps, says Margaret O'Neill, program director of the Friends of the Rochester Public Market.

The grant will also pay for a SNAP token center at the Rochester market. The market can be elbow-to-elbow during peak times, O'Neill says, and a standalone token center will move the exchange process along quicker.

Several state agencies developed the token program for New York, which operates on a voluntary basis with market vendors.

The program's a hit in Rochester, O'Neill says. The Public Market sold more than $500,000 in tokens in 2014, she says, and is on pace to beat that this year. The Rochester market accounts for more than 30 percent of all token sales statewide, O'Neill says.

More than 70 percent of the money is spent on fruits and vegetables, she says, while about 5 percent is spent on meat and fish.

There's a down side to the program's success, though, O'Neill says: that the program is so well-used illustrates the level of poverty in the Rochester area.

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