Susan Shorope peruses the vegetables, looking for just the right size and freshness before popping her choices into a bag. She’s at the Quesnel Farmers’ Market and happy to be selecting food for her next week’s meals. Accessing the market isn’t simple for her, she has mobility issues and financial constraints but with the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program, a partnership between B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets and various community partners including the local farmers’ market, Susan not only has access to fresh, local produce but also participates in a food skills program to provide seniors with affordable and enjoyable meals.
The coupon program, now in its third year in Quesnel, operates in 47 communities across the province and is funded by the Ministry of Health providing low-income families, pregnant women and seniors with coupons worth $15 a week to purchase fresh vegetables, fruit, dairy, meat, fish, eggs, nuts and herbs. In Quesnel the North Cariboo Aboriginal Family Program Society is the partner organization which distributes the coupons to participants identified by other community organizations such as Better@Home, a program which assists seniors remain in their home through various volunteer and low-cost services.
Susan receives assistance with transportation through Better@Home and her name was given to Cathy Juric at NCAFPS who runs the various community kitchen programs. One of her many programs includes From Market to Kitchen, a seniors cooking program.
Seniors are driven to the Farmers’ Market by their Better@Home volunteers where they make their purchases for the week then are driven to NCAFPS’ Hoy Street facility where they prepare affordable, nutritious meals which they can then take home, along with their market purchases.
“We have about 15 signed up but it varies how many participate,” Juric said.
“We divide them into groups of four or five
and each group has between two and three community kitchen experiences a month.”
She added they hope to include extra cooking classes for bulk purchases at the market for freezing produce and even possibly doing a little canning for winter use.
Juric also said one of the priorities in the program, besides the obvious nutritional element, is
the individual medical issues facing their participants.
Susan said she’d never gone to the market before the Better@Home program because of her transportation issues.
“Better@Home has opened up my world, I think its great going to the market, I get out and about,” she said.
Ann Braun is a big proponent of the community kitchen and all its programs.
She participates in both the community kitchen and the From Market
to Kitchen programs
and right now for her,
its all about the socializing.
“The majority of time I sit at home waiting for something to do,” she said.
“I now have neuropathy in my feet and can’t walk very well.”
Although she’s not new to the market, Ann says she’s always enjoyed going there.
“Fresh is always better.”
For Emily Scholin she’s happy to be getting out and being with people.
Recovering from a broken hip, Emily is excited to be back doing things.
“I gave up driving last year, so getting around is difficult,” she said.
Admitting she wasn’t aware there were so many people just like her, Emily said the cooking class is like a social club and she added she likes being with people and cooking with others.
Cooking in the community kitchen, supervised by Juric, is a pleasant experience for the three women and they settle down and decide which recipes they are going to tackle.
Each brings different cooking experiences and skills to the task, Susan sitting at a table, Emily and Ann working at the island. The kitchen is shiny and the appliances are all new.
Bowls, utensils, kitchen equipment and a fully stocked fridge and freezer are luxuries to many seniors and a caring, friendly helping hand from Juric makes time spent communally cooking a wonderful thing.
Susan begins her crustless quiche, Emily takes out vegetables, cutting board and knife to start her pasta dish and Ann gathers her ingredients together for blueberry/lemon mini-muffins.
It’s a hive of activity where conversations roll around the room, questions about recipes are pondered and food is cooked.
“Food security, particularly affordable and nutritious food, underlies all our programs,” Juric said.
“Nutritious snacks and meals are modelled in all program areas and we deliver a number of food skills programs in our commercially licensed kitchen.
“We are the only agency in this community offering food skills programs and this is also our third year of partnering with the local Farmers’ Market in the coupon program.”
She said they also involve cooking program participants in the local community garden.
Once the food is all prepared, cooked and cooled, the three women package it up to take home, along with their market purchases. An extra set of completed dishes is set aside as Juric is delivering
it to a participant who wasn’t well enough to attend the Saturday session.
Although all the participants currently are women, Juric is hopeful men will also consider signing up as this program is about nutritious food for all seniors.
For information about the coupon program or the cooking programs contact Juric at 250-992-9160.