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Farmers' market coupons offered to low-income families
Fresh, nutritious food is a luxury for some fixed-income families and seniors, but the expansion of a farmers' market coupon program could change that.
This week, the provincial government announced it would be investing $2 million into an initiative that gives struggling households $15 worth of coupons each week to make purchases at their local farmers' markets.
Eileen Dwillies, a manager at the Port Coquitlam Farmers Market, said the program will go a long way toward helping disadvantaged people acquire healthy produce.
"Food banks often don't have the facilities to have fresh fruit," she said. "With an afternoon market, this is fruit that is picked that day."
There is also an education component that comes with visiting the farmers' market. Dwillies said the gatherings often feature classes on how to use various fruits and vegetables that can help to expand a person's cooking horizons.
"What I am hoping is that it will teach more people how to use the food," she said. "It is mostly education we are hoping to get through this."
According to the provincial government, the coupons are treated like cash and can be used to purchase a variety of food products, from produce to meat and dairy.
The program is expected to support about 1,300 families and 400 seniors province-wide in 2013 at 34 participating markets, including PoCo and Coquitlam.
Farmers' markets must partner with a local non-profit to participate in the coupon initiatives. In PoCo, the coupons are distributed by the Wilson Centre seniors group, while the Coquitlam Farmers Market has partnered with the Healthy Babies program out of the Simon Fraser Health Unit on Winston Avenue.
When a coupon is used, the vendor is reimbursed by the organizers of the farmers' market at the end of the event and the program is administered by the B.C. Association of Farmers' Markets.
Tabitha McLoughlin, the executive director of the Coquitlam Farmers Market, familiar with the coupon initiative. Coquitlam was one of the pilot markets when the program was first launched in 2009.
Opening the doors of the markets to people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, she said, helps dispel some of the myths that exist around the markets.
"Farmers' markets have stereotypes of being too expensive or elitist," she said. "This program allows them to come, it gives them a means to make purchases and see that quite often those barriers don't exist."
Since the program was first launched, McLoughlin said it has been extremely popular in Coquitlam, where the coupon redemption rate is 86%.
Like Dwillies, she said the educational aspects of the program as the most important, particularly for people who are new to Canada.
"They tend to be unfamiliar with the types of vegetables we have here," she said. "This sort of enables them to learn more about it."
B.C. Minister of Health Terry Lake announced the funding expansion on Saturday, saying it would improve access to healthy food.
"Unfortunately, for some British Columbians, it can be hard to access these nutritious necessities," he said. "This program will help us improve the health of B.C. families by offering improved access to locally produced food for those most in need."
FARMERS' MARKETS IN THE TRI-CITIES
• Coquitlam Farmers Market
Location: The parking lot of Dogwood Pavilion (624 Poirier Street).
Hours: Sundays, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
• Port Coquitlam Farmers Market
Location: Leigh Square (2252 Leigh Square, off Shaughnessy Street).
Hours: Thursdays, 3 to 7 p.m.