‘Need has skyrocketed’ for Comox Valley Farmers’ Market coupon program

‘Need has skyrocketed’ for Comox Valley Farmers’ Market coupon program
Photo by Bill Jorgenson
Visitors gather at the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market in summer 2023.

The Comox Valley Farmers’ Market has been supplying the Comox Valley with fresh food since 1992. In the summer, kids run around playing tag while their parents stroll the stalls at the exhibition grounds in Courtenay. Many who grew up in the Comox Valley will have memories of the farmers markets here, and their kids might too.

The market has also been a long-time participant in the BC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Coupon Program, which supports lower-income families, pregnant people and seniors to access fresh, local food. Comox Valley Farmers’ Market is now joining a call for the Government of Canada to establish a national fund that would boost support for existing coupon programs and encourage its expansion to new regions.

Twila Skinner, general manager of Comox Valley Farmers’ Market said that with the current cost of living and the high prices of food, the coupons are needed more than ever.

“The amount of need has skyrocketed compared to the amount of funds that are available for this,” she said.

Petition calls for federal support

The Discourse previously reported that the Duncan Farmers’ Market has joined a recent petition to the federal government. The petition calls for a national nutrition program that would increase the already existing provincial and territorial farmers’ market nutrition programs. The petition now includes close to 1,000 signatures, and will collect names until April 9.

Gord Johns, MP for Courtenay—Alberni, will present the petition to Parliament, and the government will have 45 days to provide a formal response.

Currently, the provincial government offers about $4 million towards the coupon program, distributed in communities across B.C. Recipients, who access the program through community partner programs, can receive $27 weekly for up to 16 weeks in order to purchase food at local markets.

Last year, the program reached 226 households and 642 individuals in the Comox Valley region. Federal support would allow the program to help more people in a time of increasing need.

“Like most things right now there is less funds and more demand,” said Skinner.

The Comox Valley Farmers’ Market has signed the petition and is encouraging its neighbours and supporters to do so as well.

High demand for affordable, nutritious food

Vancouver Island in particular is facing very high rents and food prices.

The Discourse previously reported that Comox Valley rent prices increased by nearly 50 per cent between October of 2018 and October 2022, according to Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC) data.

Food prices on Vancouver Island are also among the highest in the province.

While provincial funding for the coupon program has grown over the years, it still fails to reach many people who would qualify and benefit from it.

The program runs from June to mid-December and the coupons can be used at farmers markets throughout the province. Farmers’ markets partner with community organizations that offer food security and food literacy programs to people lower incomes, pregnant people and seniors.

Skinner said that since the coupons are only valid at the farmers’ market, it helps farmers too.

The more people who have access to the coupons, the more money that goes into the pockets of farmers.

“It’s one of those circular things [in] that it helps with the food security here in the Comox Valley all around.”

Currently, the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market partners with Comox Valley Healthy Families, MIKI’SIW Métis Association and the Upper Island Women of Native Ancestry to distribute the coupons.

Farmers’ market seeks more community partners

Skinner said that they are always looking for more funding for the coupon program and new partnerships with local community groups.

If there is a group that has its own source of funding, it can purchase coupons and become a partner. These groups can be a variety of different community organizations that work to support community members, such as seniors’ associations.

For the winter season, the farmers’ market happens on Saturdays at the Native Sons Hall in Courtenay. The winter market runs until April, after then the market will take place on Saturdays at the usual spot off Headquarters Road.

In the summer, the market also operates in downtown Courtenay on Wednesdays, and in downtown Cumberland on Sundays.

Madeline Dunnett, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Discourse

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