Since 2015, VFM has run the Fresh to Families Project, a food access initiative, at their weekly summer markets, providing fresh food coupons to families in need that can be used to purchase fruits and vegetables, meat, seafood, and dairy direct from their farm vendors.
The project currently serves 150 families in Vancouver and Burnaby, many who are refugees newly settled in the city or low-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 Theresa Tang, Program Manager at Circles of Care and Connections Early Years Refugee 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 the 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 MOASIC 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 market stalls boost farm income, some farmers reporting an increase in sales of up to 20% on weeks when coupons are being distributed.
The program is more than just increasing access to healthy food and financially supporting local farmers, it also helps build meaningful connections between farmers and coupon users, as Jean Chrétien 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 low-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 for our program,” says Michelle Chow, Food Skills Support Worker from 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 that 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.”
Individual donations can also be made to the project through a fund set up at the Vancity Community Foundation. More details on the project and ways to donate can be found at eatlocal.org/fresh-to-
About Fresh to Families Project: Since 2015, Vancouver Farmers Markets’ Fresh to Families Project has provided fresh food direct from BC farms and producers to low-income families and expectant mothers living in our community. It is an expansion project of the Farmers Market Nutrition Coupon Program, a province-wide healthy eating initiative run by the BC Association of Farmers Markets and supported by the Province of British Columbia.
About Vancouver Farmers Markets: Founded in 1995, Vancouver Farmers Markets (VFM) has grown to become one of Canada’s leading farmers market organizations, with nine weekly markets that see over 470,000 shoppers per year. Our markets support 280 small BC farmers and artisan food makers and help keep 3,400 acres of local farmland in sustainable food production annually.
Media release provided by Gabrielle Vacheresse, Vancouver Farmers Markets. Image by Lubo Shouska.