Tuesday, 20 January 2009

BC Farmers' Market Nutrition & Coupon Project

paula luther , RHN

published in The Stirring Stick, December 2008

As the season shifts and we move into the cool winter slumber, our energies are also drawn inward, and we are given the opportunity to reflect on the passing season, and create the diversity and abundance of what lays ahead. In our ever increasingly busy and focused world, it is refreshing to take the time to reflect upon the interconnectedness of all of the elements that come together to create success, understanding that it is this unique and powerful meeting that creates a unique and dynamic outcome.

Biodynamic farming intimately understands the principles & importance of interconnectedness like no other. Just as these principles cultivate a diverse and rich crop, so too can they cultivate a diverse and rich community. This is integral to the foundation of the BC Farmers' Market Nutrition & Coupon Project (FMNCP), which brings together local farmers, farmers' markets, low-income families with children, pregnant women, cooking and skill building programs, and government. All of these elements work together for low-income families with children to have access to local, nutritious foods. So that we may all eat local, nutritious foods.

This BC Association of Farmers' Markets initiative is the first of its kind in Canada. Funded by the Province of BC, this innovative project provides $15 per week in coupons to low-income families that are used to purchase fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, eggs, dairy or fresh cut herbs at participating farmers’ markets for 17 weeks during regular market season (June-October). 2008 season saw 10 communities around the province participating. Participating communities included; Prince George, Smithers, Kelowna, Kamloops, Coquitlam, Abbotsford, Vancouver (YLFMS), Gibsons, Comox Valley, and Victoria.

Participating families are low-income with children and pregnant women, actively participating in a designated cooking & skill building program. Families develop & build their knowledge and skill in the preparation of healthy, nutritious meals using fresh foods. The coupons support the educational component, allowing families to put into action what they are learning in the cooking & skill-building programs. Hands on cooking, nutrition, menu planning and budgeting are a few of the activities families participate in.

For some participants, it was their first experience at a farmers' market. For others, it was a chance to connect with familiar faces. For all, it was an opportunity for the whole family to experience the magic of their local farmers' market. Kids especially enjoy the opportunity to select their favourite fruit or veggie.

“My kids have tried vegetables that they never tasted before. They also became more involved in buying our food and in preparing it. One insists that he is the family expert on how to split peas. I have learned so many new recipes from the skill building component. I have also tried many vegetables that I hadn't before (such as kale) and have gained many more cooking skills. Our family is also eating healthier. I can't say enough good things about this program. It has also been a nice bonding experience with other parents.”

Hastings Community Centre participant, Vancouver

The Farmers’ Market Nutrition and Coupon Project also supports local farmers' markets and communities, by keeping food local, and supporting local farmers. Markets have created a welcoming environment for participating families, vendors really enjoy the direct connections with families purchasing products, and have benefited from the increased sales the coupons brought to the market. Local media highlighted the FMNCP around the province, creating an opportunity for the community as a whole to learn about their local market.

... I want to thank you for the Farmers' Marker vouchers we have received. They encourage me to visit the Gibsons Fiddlehead Farmers' Market that I have never visited before. It is an amazing place and I will continue to visit long after I stop attending the CPNP [Canadian Prenatal Program]. Talking with other moms who attend the CPNP, they are all extremely pleased with the vouchers as well. It is nice to support organic farmers, but even more so, local farmers. Thank you so much for this very forward thinking project.”

Bellies & Babies participant, Sunshine Coast

These direct relationships go beyond the 17 weeks participants receive their coupons. One cooking and skill building group enjoyed the market experience so much, they have formed a buying club to purchase direct from farmers throughout the winter market season. Not only do they delight in the taste & nutrition the local & seasonal foods offer, they enjoy the market experience, the direct relationship with those growing their food and the social interaction the buying club offers them. They are also benefiting from purchasing together by receiving volume pricing, while keeping their monies local.

This group, like others around the province, have used the Farmers' Market Nutrition & Coupon Project as a catalyst to create sustainable change in their lives, and the lives of their families. Each has woven together the different elements to create a unique and dynamic transformation. The pattern is slightly different for each community, and each individual, but it is tasty for all.

The 2009 season is just around the corner, and with it brings an opportunity to reach more families around the province. The Farmers' Market Nutrition & Coupon Project will be expanding to 20 communities across the province.

If your market is interested in participating in the 2009 season, a great first step is to speak to develop relationships with local cooking and skill building programs that offer programming for low-income families &/or pregnant women. Applications for the 2009 season will be available in the new year. For more information, check the BCAFM website www.bcfarmersmarket.org or contact:

Paula Luther, RHN

Project Manager



Happy Solstice

Sunday, 11 January 2009

Eating Local is for Everyone

Eating Local is for Everyone

Organic farmer Ann Friesen redeems a days worth of coupons at the Abbotsford Farm & Country Market
Photo: Paula Luther

Eating local is good for the consumer, the farmer, and for the Earth. Unfortunately, revisions to international trade law and national regulatory practices in the past few decades have all but crushed small family farms, the champions of the eat-local movement. The corporations that currently dominate our global food trade operate on such a large scale (e.g. two firms control about 75 per cent of the world market for cereals), they can undercut pricing on a global scale. They lobby all levels of government for continued subsidization of their petroleum-dependent growing and transportation habits. This means that an apple grown in New Zealand, sprayed with pesticides and fertilized with petroleum-based products, costs half the price of one grown organically within 100 miles of my Vancouver home. A harsher consequence of this corporation-dominated food economy is that people of low income generally find local, organic food inaccessible due to its price tag.

Food stamps were accepted at farmer’s markets across the US until the early 1990s, when a transition to electronic debit food stamp cards and the technology they entail severed the link between food stamp program participants and local farmers. However, the past decade has seen a renewed attempt to encourage lower income people – at higher risk of obesity and health problems associated with poor access to nutritious food – to consume more fresh fruits and vegetables. In 2006 New York City’s Greenmarkets teamed up with city council and introduced terminals at some of their open air markets where food stamp recipients could use their debit cards.

Michael Hurwitz, Greenmarket’s director, has watched the growth of these initiatives (16 of 46 markets had terminals in 2008 and the plan is to expand to 25 in 2009), as well as the response of the community. “We have thriving markets in lower income neighbourhoods,” he states. And programs like these are a critical support for bringing local produce to people who are clearly hungry for it. At the federal level, the USDA oversees the Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP), a federally funded, state-administered nutrition program that provides vouchers for farmers’ market produce for nutritionally at-risk persons, although only in a supplemental capacity (no more than $30 per year, per participant).

Farmers’ markets in Canadian cities may actually be more inaccessible to people of lower income due to the fact that Canada has no federal food stamp program, and most cities rely on food bank handouts to support the nutritional needs of impoverished citizens. However, in 2007, the British Columbia Association of Farmers’ Markets – inspired by the USDA’s FMNP – launched the ground-breaking Farmers’ Market Nutrition and Coupon project (FMNCP) with funding from the provincial government. The FMNCP connects existing cooking and skill building (CSB) programs with local farmers’ markets and provides participants with coupons redeemable for a variety of fresh fare.

As it heads into 2009, the program has doubled its capacity from 2008; it has plans to work with 20 communities across British Columbia during the coming year. Paula Luther, the program’s manager, estimates that the program had a redemption rate of about 96 per cent for the distributed coupons in 2008. After the 2007 pilot program, it became clear that all parties – participating farmers, CSB managers, coupon recipients, and their families – benefited from both the increase of connection with their community and the sense of mutual support.

Children in these families have front-row seats as their parents shop at the markets and come home to prepare nutritious meals from local produce. Luther relates watching a parent give her child a coupon and allow him to make a choice for what food he would like to bring home.

Imagine for a moment, the typical experience of a child in a supermarket, grabbing at brightly coloured boxes of processed, sugary, artificially coloured and flavoured products. Now imagine that same child walking among stalls laden with fresh, colourful local produce and reaching up with delight to take hold of a bright orange and white striped squash, or a shining red apple.

The BCFMA allocated $165,000 for coupons in 2008. When compared to the market share of the multinational agri-businesses, programs like these are a tiny sliver of the economic pie. And yet the fact that these relatively few dollars benefit the most vulnerable members of the community while supporting sustainable, local agriculture is the magic that Luther hopes will enchant community after community.

When asked how this sliver might grow to become a mainstream economic force, Luther points back to the community level. Volunteer at your local market. Sit on a board of directors. Offer your skills at a local community kitchen. She urges people to “Step outside and get to know your neighbours, share a garden, have some mason bees, plant a tree!” Head out to your local farmers’ market, imagine what it could be like if everyone in your community could participate, and, as Luther advises, “If you don’t see what you want, then you get to create it.”



"Every choice we make can be a celebration of the world we want."

-Francis Moore Lappe

Tuesday, 6 January 2009


"There are always flowers for those who want to see them."

- Henri Matisse