Manitoba

Farmers market voucher plan proposed to help low-income Winnipeggers

A group that represents farmers markets and small-scale farmers in Manitoba wants to create a coupon system to help low-income families afford local vegetables, meats and other whole food.

Program would be modelled on similar coupon system in British Columbia

Direct Farms Manitoba, a group that represents small-scale farmers and farmers markets in Manitoba, wants to create a voucher system to make farmers markets more accessible to low-income people. (Josee St-Onge/CBC)

A group that represents farmers markets and small-scale farmers in Manitoba wants to create a coupon system to help low-income families afford local vegetables, meats and other whole food.

The proposal is modelled after a program in British Columbia, the BC Farmers' Market Nutrition Coupon Program, which supports more than 4,000 households with a minimum of $21 a week in vouchers to use at local farmers markets.

"I think it's a kind of win-win-win program," said Justin Girard, a board member of Direct Farm Manitoba and co-owner of Hearts and Roots, a small-scale organic farm near Elie, Man.

"Farmers markets are good for communities, generally. I think if we can get more people involved they're going to be even better."

Girard, who will present the idea to the Winnipeg Food Council on Wednesday, says he is looking for members from government, non-profits and charities to join a steering committing to help create the program. 

"We don't want to try to implement this from the top down. We want to build this with the people this will affect, who could participate — the people who we intend to serve," he said. 

Girard's proposal would see community groups distribute coupons to clients including pregnant women, seniors and low-income families for 16 weeks from June through to September. Farmers would be refunded money from Direct Farm Manitoba for the value of the coupons.

"[In B.C.] they've just seen a lot of participation, a lot of success," said Girard.

"They've seen an increase in food literacy, food security, more vibrant farmer's markets … and they just found, in general, people were eating healthier or shopping local more."

Food 'should be a human right'

Kyle Wiebe, a researcher who studied and mapped food insecurity in Winnipeg in 2016, says any program that helps people access better food is a good thing.

"Access to healthful food should be a human right," said Wiebe, who is now an associate the International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Justin Girard, a board member and small-scale organic farmer, is proposing a program that would provide community groups with food coupons to distribute to low-income Manitobans so they can purchase foods at their local farmers market. (Walther Bernal/CBC)

In 2016 Wiebe found 20 per cent of people in Winnipeg's inner city live in a food desert — an area that is a kilometre or more from a grocery store. Conversely, Wiebe's research suggests only four per cent of people who live in the non-inner city live in a food desert.

"Our research has identified that not everyone in Winnipeg has equal access to healthful foods, so programs that are trying to address this issue and targeting this population that might not have convenient or good access to healthful food could play a positive role," Wiebe said.

Wiebe also looked at food mirages, areas where there is a grocery store nearby but many people cannot shop there due to factors ranging from affordability to inability to physically shop for themselves.

He found 46.5 per cent of households in Winnipeg's inner city live in a food mirage compared with only 2.5 per cent of people living outside the inner city.

Wiebe says farmers markets, combined with a voucher system, could help address both food mirages and food deserts. 

"[Farmers markets] can pop up in areas where they're required," he said.

It's still unclear how much a food voucher program would cost, or whether government will support the idea.

B.C.'s coupon program receives $1.3 million in funding from the B.C. department of health and another $335,000 from private fundraising, including $35,000 from the grocery chain, Whole Foods, Girard said

He hopes to have the food coupon program up and running in Winnipeg by summer 2020.

A group that represents farmers markets and small-scale farmers in Manitoba wants to create a coupon system to help low-income families afford local vegetables, meats and other whole food. 2:38

About the Author

Laura Glowacki is a reporter based in Ottawa and Winnipeg. Previously, she worked as an associate producer for CBC's Metro Morning in Toronto. Find her on Twitter @glowackiCBC and reach her by email at laura.glowacki@cbc.ca.

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