Comox Valley Farmer’s Market Nutrition Coupon Program
The Comox Valley Family Services Association (CVFSA) partners with the BC Association of Farmer’s Markets to deliver the Farmer’s Market Nutrition Coupon Program (FMNCP) in 34 districts. The following program information was provided by Jane Hughes, CVFSA Healthy Families Program Manager.
The CVFSA coupon program was one of the original BC Association of Farmers’ Markets pilot projects in 2007, and has been running since then, under a sequence of funding streams. The program is currently funded through the Province of BC Healthy Families BC for a total of five years.
The FMNCP provides low-income families and seniors, who are also enrolled in participating cooking and skill-building programs, with $15 of coupons each week to spend at their local farmers’ market. Participants can use the coupons to purchase eligible products including fruit, vegetables, meat, fish, nuts, dairy and fresh cut herbs. Within cooking and skill-building sessions, participants learn to cook healthy, nutritious meals using locally procured products.
During July-October 2013, the program operated in 34 communities across BC. The plan is to expand by about 10 a year over the next few years. The program brings benefits families by:
- providing more fresh, locally-grown foods for low-income families.
- circulating money within the local economy, benefiting local farmers and vendors.
- providing a natural link for staff to connect families with the wider local community.
One of the CVSFA program participants sums it up: “The farmers market is an awesome place. I’m surprised to discover the sense of community such a thing can bring into peoples lives. You get a chance to buy local products and meet the farmers that grow them. It’s all very special. It’s great how everyone is so quick to help and even nice enough to give recipes and offer advice on how to cook and prepare things that are new to me. I’m so thankful to be able to be a part of the Nutrition Coupon project. It’s given me the opportunity to eat locally and enjoy many healthy and nutritious foods that BC farmers have to offer.”
When the program started, it took a couple of years to get families comfortable with going to the market. The Farmers’ Market is located on the outskirts of town, not close to where most program participants live. Public transport challenges and a mental adjustment to an unfamiliar situation and surroundings were barriers to full participation. The support, encouragement and relational involvement of Healthy Families Program staff helps to break down barriers and build comfort for participants. An agency staff person distributes coupons at the Wednesday and Saturday markets to familiarize new participants, and help with the logistics of using the coupons, which come in $3 increments.
The program’s popularity has grown dramatically. Families look forward to connecting with friends and other families at the market. There is free entertainment for the kids, so it becomes a weekly outing. Children connect with how their food is grown and produced, while the vendors generously share extra produce, popsicles and other treats.
The coupons make it more reasonable for families to buy fresh, local produce, which would otherwise be much more difficult on a tight budget. The coupons provide families with incentive to go to the market; once there, the attractive environment encourages social engagement. The unexpected benefit has been that the program has helped integrate low-income families, newcomer families and seniors more fully into the larger community.
This initiative has encouraged the Healthy Families Program to strengthen partnerships within the local community, which helps to expand family services. CVFSA has developed strong partnerships with the Immigrant Welcome Centre of the Comox Valley and the Wachiay Friendship Centre, which helps to increase the number of seniors and immigrant families accessing the coupon program.
The coupon program is required to offer skill-building workshops (canning, preserving, etc.), food demos and nutrition education, which has developed staff skills and enthusiasm to expand nutrition programming throughout the year. Staff received training to deliver the Canadian Diabetes Association Food Skills for Families program, and is now offering nutrition programming throughout the winter months.
The biggest long-term challenge for the program is transportation issues around accessing the site, as it is not in a central location.