A program that would give farmers’ market coupons to low-income families will help people and build a market for small food producers, Direct Farm Manitoba says.
“I believe this program is a fantastic tool to help pitch in and address food insecurity by helping restore local food economies,” said Justin Girard, who heads the steering committee for the project.
The program would provide underprivileged people with $21 per week from mid-June to early October through vouchers redeemable at participating farmers’ markets, according to Direct Farm Manitoba’s website.
Girard said the group, which he said includes a Winnipeg city counsellor, people from Winnipeg’s Mount Carmel clinic and other community organizations, hopes to launch a pilot of the program in six markets this spring.
Once running, Direct Farm Manitoba would administer the coupon system. Girard said they hope to provide funds for transportation tokens so people can take public transit, or organizations can rent vans to bring people to the markets.
In British Columbia, the B.C. Association of Farmers’ Markets has run a similar coupon program since 2007, according to a fact sheet from the organization. It is largely funded by the B.C. provincial government.
In 2018, the program was in 57 communities across the province and helped 3,900 households.
The program reported that in 2013, an average of $10,000 in coupons was spent at each participating market. Participants also spent an additional $100,000 at the markets. Ninety per cent of surveyed participants said the coupons made local food more accessible.
Girard said the program can be mutually beneficial for small farmers and community members. Developing a greater customer base will help more farmers’ markets get established, especially in lower-income neighbourhoods, and boost those that already exist.
Coupons may mitigate the idea that farmers’ markets are for the middle and upper classes.
“It doesn’t have to be like that,” Girard said.
The program would also allow more people to connect with farmers and how food is grown, Girard added.
Girard said they hope to raise $73,000 to fund the program pilot. The committee is waiting on grant applications and has hosted fundraising events, however, Girard said they hope the province will see the value in their program and chip in.
A spokesperson for the province said committee members had met with former minister of agriculture Ralph Eichler and that the department is aware of plans for a coupon program. The spokesperson said the province has not made any decision on supporting the program.