Farmers Market Coupons Help Farms & Families
Since 2015, VFM has run the Fresh to Families Project, a food access initiative providing fresh food coupons to families in need that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood and dairy direct from farm vendors.
The project currently serves 150 families in Vancouver and Burnaby, many of who are refugees newly settled in the city or lower-income expectant mothers who have difficulty affording fresh food regularly.
“Fresh to Families supports our low income families regarding food security and nutritional programming” says Teresa Tang, Program Manager at Circles of Care and Connection Early Years Refugree Program. “They also are given the opportunity to access fresh, locally farmed produce, while giving them a choice on what items that want to feed their family. It also gives families a sense of community and belonging.
The pandemic amplified the need for coupons, Joanne Chen, manager of children and parenting programs and youth at MOSAIC explains, “Many parents lost their employment due to the pandemic, and with increased food costs, many young families needed to choose between buying food and paying their utility. Fresh to Families helped many families to be able to purchase fresh produce and healthy food that has been pushed down the priority during the pandemic.”
The project also directly supports the livelihoods of over 80 small-scale local farmers. Coupons spent at their markets stalls boost farm income, some farmers reporting an increase in sales of up to 20% on weeks when coupons are distributed.
The program is more than just increasing access to healthy food and supporting local farmers, it also helps build meaningful connections between famers and coupon users, as Jean Chretien of Rockweld Farms explains, “Each new season I meet people new to the program, as well as meet those who are returning for another season. Apart from increased sales, which are significant, there is the pleasure of seeing the market community expand as a whole, meeting new faces and getting reacquainted with old faces.”
Yet many lower income families are still on a waitlist to receive the coupons, and the project needs more funding to bring them into the program. Whole Foods Market has been a supporter of Fresh to Families since 2015, this year donating $15,000 thanks to their Nourishing our Neighbourhoods nutrition incentive program.
“The funding from Whole Foods for Fresh to Families has been so valuable to our program,” says Michell Chow, Food Skills Support Worker at Healthiest Babies Possible. “For Us, it means that over 100 pregnant and parenting families will be able to benefit from fresh, locally grown and nutritious food! This is one of the most popular programs we offer and our clients look forward to it every year. It has helped our clients to eat more fruits and vegetables and cook more often at home.”