In Canada’s province of British Columbia, the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) supports over 145+ farmers’ markets. We also coordinate a Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program (FMNCP) which supports lower income families, pregnant people and seniors to access fresh local produce. Funding for the program is provided by the Province of British Columbia and the Provincial Health Services Authority. As well, the program is expanded with funding from regional and local businesses and organizations and individual donors too.
Each year, the program benefits over 12,000 people and 1,000 BC farmers. Those who get the coupons have opportunities for food skill building activities. They are invited to learn new foods and what to do with foods they may have never tried or seen before. Local farmers get extra income and gain more customers from their community.
One of our community partners shared a story with us about a single mother with 5 children. Before the program, she had no idea how to cook or preserve anything. She worked with her community partner to learn. She explored everything and grew the confidence to do more. Now she has all her kids involved in making pasta sauce using 10 different vegetables and canning it for the winter. She is so proud of herself and now has delicious local food in a cold climate year-round! She even teaches other participants to shop wisely and preserve. Instead of buying one head of lettuce for the week, she is teaching people to buy heaps of peppers and make sauce for all winter. If it wasn’t for the coupon program, this proud parent wouldn’t have been able to enjoy cooking with her family and friends.
Many community partners also work with new immigrants to our province and find this program is a wonderful way to help connect them with their new community. One participant found that some of the items they purchased reminded them about their home country. They bought fresh buffalo milk sold by a local vendor, something they hadn’t been able to buy for a long time. They took it home and made chai for their family, saying it had been so many years since they had tea like that.
Another vendor shared an experience with us that is just so cute. They had a little boy come to their booth who had never seen beets before. They picked out some golden beets and the vendor cut some up for him to try. The following week he came back to the same vendor carrying all his own coupons to purchase loads of beets because he liked them so much. This vendor thinks this is the whole point of the FMNCP as the child will love beets for the rest of his life because of this beautiful experience.
These are just some stories of the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program and we have heard so many like this over its 10 year life. We are so thankful to our community partners, farmers’ markets, vendors, volunteers, and funders for making this program a reality. There truly is nothing like the gift of fresh, local produce.