Good Eats

Coupon program puts fresh local food in low-income cupboards

More families can now enjoy fresh

Having fresh, local fruit, vegetables and protein just became easier for low-income families and seniors with the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program.

The project is a partnership between B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets and local community organizations with funding from B.C. Ministry of Health.

The target audience for this project is low-income pregnant women, families and seniors who receive coupon booklets to purchase fresh, local foods at the Quesnel Farmers’ Market.

Quesnel Child, Youth and Family Network chair Karen Borsato said it only took five minutes for the first Network member to enthusiastically reply to her email about the project.

“So far more than six programs have picked up coupons for clients,” she said.

“Most of those who have responded have heard about this program in other communities and were thrilled to finally have it in Quesnel.”

Coupon booklets for weekly shopping at the market ($12 for seniors; $15 for families and pregnant women) are distributed by programs who serve the target audience. There’s a preference that clients using the coupons also be involved in a related skill- or knowledge-building program related to nutritious foods.

“Affordable nutrition is a keep issue identified by community service providers,” Borsato said.

“And the coupon program is an effective partnership with the Farmers’ Market to help address this issue.”

Provincial program manager for Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program Peter Leblanc said funding is in place for three years.

“The goal is for the program to continue in the current 21 communities and expand both in number of participants in each community but also to increase the number of communities,” he said.

Agencies can pick up coupons at the North Cariboo Aboriginal Family Program Society. Each agency is required to track how many coupons are distributed. At the same time they receive brochures for clients describing the project and how the coupons can be used. Information will also be provided for agencies managing coupon booklets.

Each week participants receive a booklet of $3 coupons which allows them to shop at various Farmers’ Market vendors. The coupons are good until the last market in early October.

Harvest, the Quesnel Farmers’ Market overseeing board is pleased to finally have this program in the community.

“We’ve tried to access this program before but with a busy board it’s challenging,” coupon coordinator for the Farmers’ Market Maggie Ferguson-Dumais said.

“This year all the pieces fell into place and with secure funding for the next three years, this is good for the market, the community and for the participants. Vendors are very excited about the program.”

She added getting everyone on board and excited is sometimes a tough go, however Ferguson-Dumais said this program sells itself.

“So many people are amazed at the taste of fresh vegetables,” she said.

“A carrot is an incredible flavour experience and I just can’t describe the taste of a fresh tomato.

“That experience should be available to everyone.”

She went on to say the Farmers’ Market is happy to partner with the community agencies who distribute the coupons and the government which funded the program.

But possibly the most rewarding for vendors at the market is seeing the people spending the coupons and discovering the taste and benefits of fresh food, Ferguson-Dumais said.

The coupon brochure itemizes the eligible food, including vegetables, fruit, fresh herbs, cheese, eggs, nuts, fish and seafood and meats; Ferguson-Dumais said at the Quesnel Farmers’ Market participants can purchase almost every item on the list.

The Farmers’ Market will also be tracking how many coupons are redeemed and together with the information on how many are distributed, the success of the program can be assessed.

Borsato is excited to be part of the Farmers’ Market Coupon Program and says its part of the whole food security issue.

“Food security ensures the largest number of people have access to food that’s sufficient and affordable and nutritious,” she said.

“There’s a lot of ways to serve that issue and this program is certainly one of them.”

Leblanc said having this program operate in Quesnel provides support for low-income families and seniors.

“They will be able to select fresh, local nutritious food from the farmers at the Quesnel Farmers Market,” he said.

“What a wonderful way to improve nutritional health and support local agriculture.”

For information on this program contact Borsato at 250-992-9160 or drop by the market and have a chat with Ferguson-Dumais.

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