A pilot project to put locally grown food in the hands of low-income people is adapting to fit markets moving online.
“The social aspect of our program, the coming together at a farmers’ market, was incredibly important to us,” said Justin Girard, Direct Farm Manitoba board member. “But in the midst of a pandemic that’s not always possible.”
Last year, Direct Farm Manitoba rolled out plans for a farmers’ market coupon program which planned to partner with community organizations to give vouchers to families in need. These vouchers would be redeemed for food at participating markets.
Direct Farm Manitoba planned to pilot the program in select markets this year.
Pandemic-related challenges haven’t closed farmers’ markets, but they have led to them moving online, and a hesitance to exchange cash or coupons.
Girard said they were also mindful that computer and internet access may be a barrier, especially as libraries remain closed.
Now the program will distribute weekly budgets to participating community organizations. The groups will purchase local foods online, directly from participating farmers, from Direct Farm Manitoba food hubs, and at farmers’ markets that are still open.
“It’s exciting to have so many variations on the same theme,” Girard said. “One organization for instance will be ordering for pickup from St. Norbert’s online storefront. Another will be ordering for its takeaway meal program through a food hub until its affordable market reopens.”
Girard said these adaptations to the program, now named the Manitoba Community Food Currency, were in the works before the pandemic struck.
The coupon program was initially pitched to Direct Farm members as a way to help folks in need while building a customer base for farmers’ markets. This may no longer be the case.
“Perhaps this year isn’t the year to build new farmers’ markets, in the traditional sense,” Girard said, but he added that Direct Farm Manitoba has already seen real growth in memberships this year.
“This program is well positioned to increase our farmers’ capacity to serve their communities and could be easily scaled,” said Girard. “As the program grows each year, we’ll increase our community’s capacity to produce its own food in greater variety and welcome more types of farms.”