The province has stepped up with $12 million over three years in support of the 10-year-old BC Farmers Market Nutrition Coupon Program.
The funding, announced by Health Minister Adrian Dix at the Kitsilano Farmers Market on June 5, will average $4 million a year. This is an increase from $2.25 million three years ago, and will support the program’s expansion into five new communities and address waiting lists for access to the program.
The province expects the coupon program to benefit more than 8,824 households in 2022, reaching approximately 24,656 individuals. These will include an additional 1,750 senior households, who will benefit from an additional $1 million in funding per year.
Participating households receive $27 worth of coupons per week for 16 weeks, a $6 increase from last year. The coupons can be used at markets that are members of the BC Association of Farmers Markets, which administers the program.
Dix also announced the expansion of the program to include honey in addition to fresh fruit, vegetables, dairy, eggs and meats as well as food-bearing plants.
While funding for the program is through the health ministry, Dix was joined by provincial agriculture minister Lana Popham, who praised the program for its contribution to food security.
“By supporting increased participation in the program for those who need it most, we are helping more people become food secure while also strengthening our provincial food system and local food economies,” she said.
Approximately 1,000 farm vendors participate in markets where the coupons are used.
The funding comes as rising food costs begin to bite. A new survey for Food Banks Canada by Mainstreet Research indicating that 23% of Canadians are eating less than they should due to rising food costs.
With this spring being the coolest since 2010, and drought squeezing California growers, many expect dramatic increases in fresh produce. According to Statistics Canada, food prices were up 9.7% in April versus a year earlier, the largest increase since 1981.
The funding for the coupon program doesn’t just benefit consumers and vendors. It has also been an asset for the BC Association of Farmers Market, which administers the program. The funding has served as an anchor for the association, allowing it to undertake far more than it could without that underpinning.
The association will hold its annual conference this year in New Westminster, November 2-4.