A new program in Wolfville, N.S., is helping families who use the food bank shop at one of the local farmers' markets.

Acadia University student Jessica Wall is behind the Wolfville Local Food Bucks Program, which ran for six weeks this summer.

"Choice is one of the first things lost by someone with low income, especially when you're going to a food bank," Wall told CBC's Information Morning. "We really wanted to make sure people had the dignity and the freedom to make those purchases on their own."

Seventeen families took part in the program this summer. Single people received $20 in gift certificates to the Wolfville Farmers' Market, couples received $26 and families got $30.

Wolfville Local Food Bucks Program

The gift certificates come in $2 denominations. (Phlis McGregor/CBC)

'I found it a huge help'

Tasha Belong and her family took part in the program, and her two kids (two and seven years old) loved it.

"I found it a huge help," Belong said. "I find you're always shuffling your finances in your house. Stealing from Paul to pay Peter idea."

It gave her family options and control, she said.

"Now you're also maybe part of a community, where you have been invisible or oppressed from that option before because you haven't had the money to go down and spend $30 or $40 because it's just not part of your budget."

Similar programs in B.C., Ontario

Wall said she was inspired by the B.C. Farmers' Market Nutrition Coupon Program, which is government funded, and other smaller programs in Ontario.  

She first partnered with the food bank and met with people who wanted to try out the project. They identified the need for bus tickets to get to the market.

It was also important the program wasn't stigmatizing. Wolfville Farmers' Market already has its own gift certificate system, so the participants weren't singled out in any way.

This year the program was funded by a $2,000 grant from the Eastern Kinds Wellness Initiative Fund and a $2,000 grant through Acadia University. 

Wall said 91 per cent of the coupons were spent on food, such as meat, fresh vegetables, eggs and bread. 

Community building

Participant Sharon Brown comes for the food, but also for the people. She likes getting out once a week and interacting with everyone there.  

"I was able to be introduced to new foods and vegetables that I've never tried before," said Brown. "My granddaughter has introduced me to apple cider."

Brown continues to drop by for a small $2 jug once a week, she said. 

Wall said she hopes to raise $10,000 so 38 families can buy food at Nova Scotia farmers' markets next summer.

With files from CBC's Information Morning