Province kills funding for innovative Farmers’ Market coupon project

A program that helped 75 local families — who couldn't otherwise have afforded it — get fresh fruit and vegetables last summer has been axed by the provincial government. Revelstoke Current file photo

By David F. Rooney

A program that helped 75 local families — who couldn’t otherwise have afforded it — get fresh fruit and vegetables last summer has been axed by the provincial government.

“The province-wide Farmers’ Market Nutrition and Coupon Project (FMNCP) helped 75 local families with $5,000 worth of coupons and now it’s gone,” Patti Larson, Community Connections’ manager of Outreach Services, said Tuesday.

She said she learned of the project cancellation in an e-mail from FMNC Project Manager Paula Luther.

“The BC Association of Farmers’ Markets (BCAFM) regrets to announce that the successful Farmers’ Market Nutrition & Coupon Project (FMNCP) will be cancelled for the 2010 season, due to lack of funding,” Association President Mary Forstbauer said in a statement of regret sent to Larson by Luther.” A province-wide initiative of the BCAFM, the FMNCP has brought dollars to local farmers and farmers’ markets and supported close to 3000 low income families and children in accessing local, nutritious food since its inception in 2007.”

An innovative project, the first of its kind in Canada, the FMNCP provided low-income families with children and low-income pregnant women coupons to access fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy or fresh cut herbs at participating farmers’ markets across BC. Participating families were actively participating in a designated cooking and skill building program, allowing families to develop and build knowledge and skill in the preparation of healthy, nutritious meals using fresh, local foods.

“I guess I need to champion a local version of it,” Larson said, adding that she is already approaching local organizations about helping keep a made-in-Revelstoke version of the project alive.

The FMNCP helped people from a wide range of backgrounds, she said.

“They weren’t just Food Bank clients,” Larson said. “There were people from the wider community who had difficulty affording fresh fruits and vegetables for their children.”

She said the organic foods that the FMNCP emphasized were expensive “but the quality and the nutritional value of those foods more than made up for the cost.”

The program also incorporated an education component. Parents who had few or no cooking skills attended a program that taught them about nutrition and ways to best prepare the foods they purchased using the coupons, which were only valid at the weekly Farmers’ Market.

While losing provincial backing for the province-wide program is disheartening it doesn’t mean there need not be a similar program here this summer.

“We can do it,” Larson said. “It may not be as big but it can be as effective.”

She said she is already looking getting the Community Garden going again this year and would like to see some form of garden-sharing program that matches would-be but landless gardeners with people who have gardens but who are unable or unwilling to work the soil themselves