This week marks the start of another season for the BC farmers’ market nutrition coupon program, which is being backed by nearly $1.9 million in provincial funding this year – a new record.
BC health minister Adrian Dix announced the funding on June 5.
“It is so important to ensure the farmers’ market is everyone’s farmers’ market,” he told market managers in a conference call organized to break the news. “Markets are for everybody.”
Dix says the funding, administered by the BC Association of Farmers’ Markets, meets both health and community objectives. The province is committed to supporting the program in the years to come, he adds.
Participants will receive $21 a week through November 15 to purchase BC-grown vegetables, fruits, nuts, eggs, dairy products, herbs, meat and fish at markets in 79 communities across BC. This is up 29% from $16.22 a week last year. Coupons can also be applied to online purchases at the 64 markets that offer this sales channel.
A total of 6,000 low-income households and 18,000 people, including expectant mothers and seniors, are expected to benefit. This is approximately double what it was in 2018 and a 300% increase from 2012.
BC agriculture minister Lana Popham participated in the announcement, saying the program helps support local farmers during what has been a challenging year trying to gauge demand. She calls herself “Polly-Lana,” saying she likes to see the silver lining in bad situations. This is a case in point.
“People are more connected to food, now more than ever,” she says. “I have so much pride when I go to farmers’ markets and see the changes that have been made.”
“We are so grateful to the program, it provides so much to our community,” says Rob Pingle of the Tuesday market on Salt Spring Island.
However, the program isn’t a cure-all.
Pingle said COVID-19 continues to have a negative effect on market operations. Operating expenses are up 6% while income is down 50% because it had to relocate and physical distancing measures mean fewer vendors can participate at the new location.
Other markets have also seen a decline in vendors, with some seeing operating income fall up to 75%.