Blooming response to B.C. market coupon program
Nearly 7,800 lower-income residents have been served through the farmers market coupon program this summer. (File photo)
A coupon program that connects lower-income families with locally grown food has boomed, reaching 2,330 households in 47 B.C. communities in 2014.
Over a 16-week period this summer, the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets helped circulate more than 175,000 $15 coupons through a provincially funded program that serves low-income families, seniors and pregnant women. Roughly 94% of those coupons were redeemed, a rate that was astounding for program manager Peter Leblanc.
“Just to think that all those coupons handed out individually for multiple weeks, 94% of them get into the market,” he said. “The redemption rate, it blows us away. We’re very pleased to see it.”
The program, now in its third year, partners with community organizations to provide participants with coupons in exchange for attending free nutrition workshops.
Comox Valley Farmers Market executive director Vickey Brown estimates it helped drive an additional $19,000 in sales for her vendors this year, while engaging people in the market who may otherwise be marginalized from the community.
“Those are sales that likely would not have come to the market,” said Brown, who’d like to see the program extended year-round. “That’s extra money in our farmers’ pockets. It’s awesome.”
Kelly Hodgins studied the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program as part of a master’s thesis on food insecurity in B.C. While she commended it for filling nutrition gaps not typically met by food banks, she reported that some markets found the workshop requirement demoralizing for participants.
“It indicates that, in order to get coupons, it presumes that you don’t have a certain level of food literacy,” she said.
She added that the question of food insecurity, which affects roughly 12% of Canadians according to some national estimates, will only be remedied with broader changes to poverty levels.
“This program is a really good stop-gap measure to address some aspects, but we can’t let it distract us from the great issues at work,” she said.